Re-signing Matt Prater was critical move for the Detroit Lions

For a year and a half following the retirement of Jason Hanson after the 2012 season, the Detroit Lions found out what happens when there is instability with a kicker.

This was a foreign concept to the franchise, because Hanson had been a beacon of stability for the club for two decades -- the one position where the team did not have to worry at all about consistency or production.

Life without Hanson was difficult. The franchise went through two veterans -- David Akers and Alex Henery -- and a rookie (Nate Freese) in 2013 and the beginning of 2014 as Detroit tried to find a successful replacement for one of the best kickers in NFL history.

Somewhat luckily due to timing and circumstances, the Lions had a chance to sign Matt Prater prior to Week 6 of the 2014 season. The franchise did and almost immediately stabilized the position again after two miscues in his first game with the club against Minnesota.

That rediscovered stability reinforced why having a consistent, competent kicker was so important and it made Prater one of the team's highest-priority free agents not named Ndamukong Suh. It could easily be argued that other than Suh, bringing back Prater was the highest priority because Detroit couldn't afford to try another rookie at the position or roll with another kicker the team had no experience with.

So consider this a pre-free agency win for Detroit as it waits to figure out what will happen with some of the higher profile players out there.

The Lions knew what they had in Prater, who made 23 of 28 field goals last season (including the playoffs) and 174 of 213 field goals (including playoffs) in his career. The new contract -- both sides made it clear early on they wanted to continue the relationship -- also rewards both sides. It gives Prater some stability after showing he can continue to kick at a high level coming off a four-game suspension last year that led to his release by Denver. It also rewards the Lions for taking a chance on Prater coming off that suspension.

That the franchise did that meant a lot to the 30-year-old and was part of the reason he wanted to return to the team -- something he said multiple times throughout the season once he discovered his old kicking rhythm.

Bringing him back also eliminates a couple of the Lions' worries.

The signings of Prater and snapper Don Muhlbach solidify the Lions' specialists for another season so they don't have to try to compete for any of them on the open market or rely on a rookie. There's also a comfort in consistency there. Holder Sam Martin knows how Prater likes the football placement on field goals. Martin also knows how to handle Muhlbach's snaps on punts and holds.

This is all critical, as once again the Lions have stability at a position where it is not only wanted, but fully expected.