ST. LOUIS -- When the Denver Broncos released kicker Matt Prater in early October and chose to stick with Brandon McManus, Prater was coming off a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy with a hefty contract in tow. The Broncos believed in McManus’ potential as a prospect.
"It's always a football decision," Broncos head coach John Fox said at the time, "what's going to give us the best chance, in our opinion … he's got great potential, he's a great young kicker.’’
The Broncos may still feel strongly about McManus’ potential over the long haul, but presently they are not letting him attempt kicks Prater would have been asked to make. In the 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome, the Broncos passed up opportunities for 54- and 55-yard field-goal attempts indoors.
Following the game, Fox said he would have let McManus attempt kicks from as far away as the Rams’ 33-yard line. So after watching McManus warm up, the Broncos had capped his game-day range at 50 yards.
“We never got to that range,’’ Fox said following the game. “… I don’t know that was really the difference.’’
In the first instance, the Rams were holding a 3-0 lead and the Broncos had fourth down on the Rams’ 37-yard line. Instead of attempting a 54-yard field goal, they opted to go for it and did not convert. The Rams connected on a 63-yard touchdown play on the next snap to take a 10-0 lead.
In the second instance, on the Broncos’ first possession of the second half and with the Rams leading 13-7, the Broncos sent the punt team out with the ball on the Rams’ 38-yard line. Linebacker Lerentee McCray committed a false start penalty, which moved the ball back to the St. Louis 43-yard line. Britton Colquitt then punted 28 yards to the Rams’ 15-yard line.
“They practice and get paid too … this is the NFL, they played better than we did,’’ Fox said. “I think minus-2 [in turnover margin] is a reason you can write, I think our ineffectiveness on third down, you can write, I thought those were more factors than where we kicked or didn’t kick.’’
McManus missed a 53-yard attempt against the San Diego Chargers and hit the right upright for a miss from 41 yards against New England. He’s 3-of-5 on field goal attempts since Prater’s release.
The Broncos traded a conditional draft pick to the Giants -- it turned out to be a seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft -- for McManus in August when Prater’s suspension became official. Prater, with the suspension hanging over him, had a lukewarm training camp and missed two kicks in the preseason -- a 54-yarder and a 49-yarder.
McManus also missed two kicks in the preseason -- a 52-yarder and a 54-yarder against Dallas -- just two days after he'd joined the team following the trade with the Giants.
Prater's contract also affected the decision to release him. His cap figure was originally $3.107 million for this season, and the Broncos saved $2.294 million on the cap this year and $3.25 million on their 2015 salary cap, as well.
That was an issue for a team facing plenty of decisions in free agency following this season, as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Wes Welker, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, offensive lineman Orlando Franklin and safety Rahim Moore are among the players scheduled to become free agents.