ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Moves like the decision to release kicker Matt Prater happen often -- but usually in February or March, in advance of the new league year, and weeks after the season ends.
In this case, it happened Friday, two days before the Week 5 showdown with Arizona. A handful of factors that led to the choice, which comes as Prater's four-game suspension nears its end. These included contracts and salary-cap planning, a potential suspension of one year if Prater committed another violation of the substance-abuse policy, and the performance and potential of replacement Brandon McManus.
"It's just an overall decision," Head Coach John Fox said.
"It's always difficult, but it's always a football decision, what's going to give us the best chance in our opinion, and I wish Matt nothing but the best moving forward."
The release of Prater creates dead money in regards to the prorated portion of his signing bonus. But even when factoring that into the equation, the Broncos will save money under this year's cap, because Prater would have earned more than five times what McManus would earn with a rookie/first-year minimum deal.
Denver has a large and talented crop of players with expiring contracts, led by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, free safety Rahim Moore and left guard Orlando Franklin. A seven-figure cap savings next year by changing from Prater to McManus makes it a bit easier to get as many key veterans re-signed as possible.
McManus' cap figure for 2015 is scheduled to be less than 15 percent of what Prater's would have been. And based on McManus' results so far, the difference between the two is much less than their figures would indicate.
"Brandon has obviously proved that he can do it," punter and holder Britton Colquitt said. "We haven't had many opportunities for long field goals yet -- in fact, everything is under 24 (yards) -- but he's kicking touchbacks. He does it in practice. He has plenty of practices where he doesn't miss one. So he's definitely the best person to replace somebody like that."
McManus said that during the Wednesday and Thursday practices each week, he gets seven placekicks during each session, which would put him at 70 kicks, about what a kicker would expect to receive during games over two seasons.
"Statistically, they're charting everything down that you do -- kickoffs, field goals," McManus said. "And then my field goals during the preseason."
In the preseason finale, he was 2-of-4 on field-goal attempts, with both misses from beyond 50 yards.
"To me, as a specialist, your job is so criticized and people always have their eyes on you, that there's no difference between a preseason game and a regular-season game for us," McManus said. "There's no backup, and if you're messing up, they're going to come in and fill your void."
McManus noted that he was unssure what his longest kick in practice was -- although, as he answered the question, backup quarterback Brock Osweiler walked by and offered, "74."
"Yeah, I could do that," McManus replied, with a laugh.
He tries not to let distance enter his mind.
"I think every kick is treated the same way. I kick a 28-yarder the same as I kick a 55-yarder," McManus said. "I think it would be good if I did get a long kick on film, but if I just keep my head down and keep doing what I'm doing, I think I'm proving to a lot of people what I'm capable of."
Colquitt admitted he was "surprised" about Prater's release, but made a quick pivot to consider the factors involved.
"But as far as with the way football works, with the way Brandon's done -- and I don't know, money can always be a thing, too," Colquitt said.
"We know that it's a business. We know that you're only as good as your last kick or snap or hold or whatever. That's how this business is," he added later. "I'm not naive enough to think that there's (not) other punters out here that are better than me that might not have a job. So I've just got to focus and do my best to just help our team win."
And for Colquitt, part of that will be holding for McManus, whose cannon leg and upside earned him the opportunity.
"I came in here with the mindset that I was going to make it a difficult decision, and that I was going to be here all year, because that's the way I wanted to approach this," he said.