Now we know why the Denver Broncos have been giving kicker Mitch Ewald so much playing time in the preseason.
It seemed unreasonable for the Broncos to keep another kicker on the roster. After all, starter Matt Prater is widely regarded as one of the best kickers in the game. He holds the record for the longest field goal in NFL history, and he has been remarkably consistent throughout his career.
But according to The Denver Post, Prater will be suspended four games for a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. His suspension is only for four games, and he's only a kicker.
However, he happens to be arguably the best at what he does in the entire NFL. Replacing Prater, who missed just one field goal last season, will be no easy task.
And it's certainly not one the rookie Ewald can handle.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ewald has been the third-worst kicker out of 64 this preseason. He shanked a 36-yard field goal against the Houston Texans in Week 3 of the preseason, and his kickoffs have been mediocre at best.
Asking a rookie, especially one who hasn't received many reps, to handle kicking duties could be detrimental to the team. Ewald wasn't exactly tremendous in college, either; he made just 80.3 percent of his field-goal attempts.
For a frame of reference, that mark would have placed Ewald at 26th in the NFL last season.
Handling the pressure of kicking in the NFL is different, so Ewald would have a tough time duplicating his college numbers. In other words, he's likely to miss some field goals.
The Broncos would be able to survive if they had an easy slate, but they have no such luck. Denver has to face four teams that combined to win 49 games last year (including the playoffs) to start the season.
As for the games against the Colts and the Chiefs, those will both be imperative for playoff seeding in the AFC. Kansas City is a talented division foe that could contend for the AFC West title, and Indianapolis could contend for the top seed in the AFC with the Broncos.
If the Broncos falter because of Prater's absence, it could set them back significantly and cost them in the playoff standings. That's why they need to add a veteran kicker to compete with Ewald.
There are options now, and there will be more options after rosters are trimmed to 53 players. But one clearly stands out above the rest.
Rob Bironas, who was cut by Tennessee largely due to salary cap reasons, has made 87.3 percent of his kicks over his last four years.
Bironas could be a great fit in Denver. Even though he would almost certainly be cut after four games, he could use his potential stint in Denver to show other teams he's still capable of performing at a high level.
In other words, Bironas could benefit from being in Denver as well. This is especially true because three of the four games are in Denver, where the air is thin and the kicking conditions are perfect.
Over the course of the last three years, Prater has made 88.4 percent of his field goals in Denver and just 80 percent of them away from Denver. This trend shows the benefits of kicking in Denver, where the longest field goal in history was made (by Prater).
Bironas could also benefit from these conditions, especially because he is older and could get aid on longer kicks.
Ewald would as well, but he clearly hasn't taken advantage of his opportunities in Denver so far. He simply doesn't have what it takes to start for an NFL team with legitimate championship aspirations, but Bironas does.
If Denver can't get Bironas, it needs to add someone. Rian Lindell, Lawrence Tynes and Jay Feely are available, but none are as good as Bironas.
None of the three have a career field-goal percentage better than Feely's 82.7 percent, and even Feely was cut because he struggled in the preseason.
None would be able to match Prater or Bironas, but all have stayed in the league for a long time. That alone puts them at a significant advantage over Ewald, so if Bironas isn't willing to sign with Denver, the Broncos will have other choices.
In short, Bironas is clearly the best option, and he would be a welcome addition to the Broncos. They need experience for this difficult slate, and having an undrafted rookie who didn't sign until July is not the best thing for the team.
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