Updates from Friday, Oct. 3
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports surprising news on Prater:
The Broncos eventually made things official:
Kicker Matt Prater has been released, Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John Elway announced Friday.
"Parting ways with Matt Prater—the longest-tenured player on our roster—was a very difficult football decision," Elway said. "On behalf of our entire organization, I want to thank Matt for his seven seasons with the Broncos and wish him well going forward."
Updates from Tuesday, Aug. 26
An NFL spokesperson released the following statement:
"Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
Prater will be eligible to return to the Broncos’ active roster on Monday, October 6 following the team’s October 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Prater is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games."
Updates from Monday, Aug. 25
Matt Prater spoke on his suspension, apologizing for his actions via the Broncos' Twitter account:
Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater has been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2014 season after a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.
The NFL will announce the penalty Monday, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post.
Prater tested positive for alcohol use. Though alcohol is neither a banned substance nor illegal, Prater was in the NFL's alcohol-abuse program due to a DUI in 2011.
"I've made some mistakes," Prater said. "I'm accepting full responsibility. I'll learn from it and come back a better person. I want to apologize to my teammates, my coaches, the Broncos' organization and the fans."
Prater will not appeal the punishment.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Prater was facing a more serious punishment:
Prater was arrested in August 2011 and charged with driving under the influence after a hit-and-run incident outside a hotel in a Denver suburb. While he was not suspended then, the arrest made him subject to random tests.
"I wonder if we shouldn't take a second look at the policy when only a couple beers were consumed at home while he was on vacation," Prater's attorney, Harvey Steinberg, told Klis. "Having said that, the NFL under the constraints of the policy couldn't have treated us better."
Prater will be eligible to return for Denver's Week 6 game against the New York Jets. The Broncos have a Week 4 bye, thus extending the punishment by a slight degree.
The 30-year-old Pro Bowler is heading into his seventh season with the Broncos. Since his arrival in Denver, Prater has emerged as one of the best kickers in football. He has a career 81.6 conversion percentage, which includes a sterling 25-of-26 campaign in 2013. He also set an NFL record with 75 extra points last year and made the longest field goal in league history—a 64-yarder in Week 14 against the Titans.
The Broncos have used rookie Mitch Ewald as their backup kicker during the preseason. Ewald, an undrafted free agent from Indiana, has converted five extra points and made a 22-yard field goal in his first three appearances. Denver's last preseason contest against Dallas on Thursday night may become something of a tryout for Ewald to land the job.
That said, there isn't a shortage of quality kickers available on the market. Rob Bironas, Lawrence Tynes and Rian Lindell are just three of a handful of quality veterans the Broncos could choose to sign over trusting an undrafted rookie. Bironas in particular being a free agent is surprising, given he has made 80 percent or better of his kicks in each of the last seven seasons.
Denver opens the regular season against three straight playoff teams (Indianapolis, Kansas City and Seattle) and then faces the 10-win Cardinals. The difficult early trek may force John Fox's hand into at least holding a tryout for veterans as a just-in-case measure. Either way, losing Prater's strong and consistent leg is another blow for a team that may already be without wide receiver Wes Welker due to a concussion.
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