Under Sean Payton, Week 1 of the preseason brought more play from the starting offense than was expected, but it also brought missed kicks by both Brett Maher and Elliott Fry.

Let’s rewind for a minute to last Friday. As the Denver Broncos looked to capitalize on an interception in the first quarter, the offense sputtered and left Maher a 47-yard field goal attempt from the right hashmark. That was pushed wide right by the veteran kicker, who notably likes to line up on the left hashmark on extra points.

Then came Elliott Fry’s chance, and he missed a 50-yarder, again wide right.

Considering all the frustrations surrounding scoring last year—Denver was dead-last with 16.9 points per game—fans started getting antsy, even thought it’s just the preseason.

Finally, Russell Wilson led the Broncos on a scoring drive, connecting with Jerry Jeudy for a 21-yard touchdown on fourth down as the Arizona Cardinals defense blitzed seven. Maher made the extra point, but one has to wonder if Payton even would have gone for it on 4th and 4 if his kickers weren’t so bad to that point.

Fast forward to later in the half, and Frye connected on a 55-yarder to push the team ahead 10-0 and he made an extra point of his own in the second half as well. Maher had another field goal opportunity in the game, too, but his 52-yarder was blocked by the Cardinals.

Between the two Broncos kickers, nine total points were left off the board Friday night. Denver ended up losing 18-17, something fans have become all too accustomed to as of late.

Last year, seven of Denver’s games were decided by three points or less. And in those close games, the Broncos went 2-5.

The Broncos finished the year 5-12 and fired Nathaniel Hackett before the season was even over. Denver’s offense was the worst in the NFL, even if the defense was solid and special teams were only decent. Brandon McManus was the lone, great player for that phase of the game.

Payton can’t expect to turn this team into a playoff contender in his first year and not steal some wins late.

That’s why it was weird when Payton cut McManus just after the NFL Draft in a move which was chalked up to his $5 million salary.

Broncos waive Elliott Fry, leaving Brett Maher as their only kicker

Then, on Tuesday, the Broncos waived Fry to open up space for long-snapper Jack Landherr.

According to Payton, Fry was dealing with a pulled muscle.

Note that second part, that Payton may bring in yet another kicker to compete with Maher.

“We’ll go day-to-day with where we’re at with the kickers,” Payton explained. And said Maher, “Brett had a good day today.”

During Denver’s practice, the fifth-year veteran did decently; Maher made kicks from 33, 38, 40, 43, 50, and finished the day with a 59-yarder. But he also missed from 45 and hit the right upright from 53 yards out.

On one hand, we’re not expecting Maher to be perfect with every kick. But on the other hand, this was only practice and he’s still missing field goals.

Over the course of his four-year career, Maher has made 81% of his field goal attempts overall. He’s also made 70.4% of kicks over 50 yards, including a career-long 63-yard boot back in 2019. However, it’s important to keep in mind he’s played most of his career indoors, with Dallas and New Orleans.

In Denver, there’s wind, snow, and even the sometimes questionable grass to deal with which could affect his kicking.

So, how do Maher’s numbers compare with McManus’? The nine-year veteran, who had played his entire career with the Broncos before Payton waived him, has made 81.4% of his field goals, and gone 40-72 (55.6%) from beyond 50 yards out. When it comes to touchback percentage, McManus is at 69.3% for his career, Maher at 65.0%.

So, when you look at the numbers, it’s clear Maher is a better kicker from distance. But keep in mind McManus has attempted nearly 2.5 times as many kicks in his career than Maher (274-116).

What does it all boil down to?

Broncos Country became accustomed to McManus as the team’s kicker from 2014-2022. He wasn’t perfect, but was pretty damn accurate and had a huge leg, which benefited the team in kickoffs and giving coaches the option to go for longer field goals.

McManus was a solid kicker, a player at a key position that no one had to give much thought about.

Now, Maher steps in as a seemingly just as solid kicker, who’s even more accurate from distance.

But what we’ve seen so far is shaky kicking in the team’s first preseason game as well as in practice. That’s partly why Fry was brought in to compete, and it sounds like the team may still bring in another to compete with him before the season is over.

Simply, the Broncos are probably going to be in multiple close games this year and they need a kicker who can come through in the clutch for them. McManus was that kicker.

Will Maher be that guy? Or will Denver have instability at a crucial spot all year long?

The Broncos likely can’t make the playoffs if they’re “day-to-day” on kickers all season. That decision to waive McManus could be one Sean Payton ends up kicking himself for in January if Denver’s on the outside looking in.