Englewood When word of Matt Prater’s pending four-game suspension came down, Denver rookie kicker Mitch Ewald said, “There’s an opening there. Is it for me? Who knows? It might be, it might be for somebody else.”
The rookie from Indiana saw Tuesday that he wasn’t in the Broncos’ plans.
They released him after acquiring first-year kicker Brandon McManus from the New York Giants for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015.
Ewald was unimpressive at Broncos camp, never quite finding a rhythm at altitude despite working alongside Prater, whom he studied while in college.
Ewald was wide left on a 36-yard field goal try with 4:36 left that would have given Denver a 10-point lead against Houston on Saturday night. That miss opened the door for the Texans’ TD drive and 2-point conversion that won it 18-17 in the final minute.
“I just rushed myself,” said Ewald, who was hoping to get all the work in Denver’s preseason finale at Dallas on Thursday night.
Instead, those duties will go to McManus, who connected on both of his field goal attempts, from 46 and 47 yards, and recorded touchbacks on 10 of 11 kickoffs for the Giants this preseason. His 10 touchbacks rank second in the NFL this preseason.
Despite that, he was unable to unseat incumbent Josh Brown.
Brown had high praise for McManus, who scored a school-record 338 points at Temple and was in the Colts training camp last season.
“He’s one of those guys that’s going to be a lifer,” Brown said. “He’s going to be a 10-year guy, easily. He’s got that kind of talent and he’s got that kind of head on his shoulders.”
For now, the Broncos plan to use McManus only until Prater returns in early October. Because the Broncos have their bye in Week 4, Prater won’t be allowed to practice with the team until Oct. 6 in advance of their game against the Jets.
The Broncos decided to go with a youngster rather than an experienced kicker such as Jay Feely, who was released by the Cardinals this week. A vested veteran would put the Broncos on the hook for his entire 2014 salary even if he’s only around for the first four games.
Prater, the league’s top kicker, has been in the NFL’s drug program, which includes alcohol, since a DUI arrest on Aug. 12, 2011. The suspension will cost him $705,882 in base salary.
Coach John Fox has indicated that any Plan B would be temporary, suggesting Prater hadn’t worn out his welcome in Denver: “He’s part of our family. He’s one of ours and we’re going to support him through this.”
Prater led the league last year by making 25 of 26 field goals (96.2 percent), including a record-breaking 64-yarder in December against Tennessee. He also led the NFL with 81 kickoff touchbacks and earned his first Pro Bowl honor.