ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos opened up organized team activities on Tuesday, but what happened at practice isn’t what’s making headlines. Head coach Sean Payton and general manager George Payton made noise by making a handful of roster moves:
- They released kicker Brandon McManus, 31.
- They signed nose tackle Tyler Lancaster, 28.
- They signed offensive tackle Cam Fleming, 30.
- They invited kicker Brett Maher, 33, to try out on Wednesday.
The Broncos will be over the roster limit when the moves above are made official. They’ll need to release or trade a player to open up a roster spot. They’ll need to open up another roster spot when they sign a kicker.
Brandon McManus, 31, saw his nine-year run as the Broncos’ starting kicker come to an end on Tuesday. He leaves Denver as the Broncos’ second all-time leading scorer. He was the final member of the Super Bowl 50 team remaining on the Broncos’ roster. McManus had served as a captain in each of the last six seasons.
McManus is coming off arguably the worst statistical season of his career. He converted 78% of his field goal attempts, the third-lowest mark of his career. He converted 93% of his extra-point attempts, the second-worst of his career.
In McManus’ defense, a poor special teams unit around him certainly didn’t help his chances. Two of his kicks were blocked. Other hiccups also occurred, like the botched hold on the extra point below.
News of McManus’ release came less than an hour after the NFL approved a rule change that allows players to fair catch a kickoff in the field of play and take the ball at the 25-yard line. McManus is one of the NFL’s top kickoff men, so that change may have factored into the decision to let McManus go.
By moving on from McManus, the Broncos clear $7.7 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons. Denver used a post-June 1 designation when releasing McManus, which means the dead cap hit sustained from the release will be spread over the next two years. The Broncos will see a $3.75 million increase in cap space this season, and they add about $1.25 million in dead cap to the accounting for 2024.
With McManus out of the picture, the Broncos need to find a kicker. They don’t have one on the roster. If they use the entire $3.75 million in new cap space for 2023, they could make their new kicker the 14th highest-paid in the league. If they spend the $2.5 million in overall cap space they cleared (which factors in the 2024 dead cap) they could make their kicker the 18th highest-paid in the league.
(For what it’s worth, McManus was playing on a four-year contract worth $4.3 million per season. His average salary ranked 11th in the NFL.)
The pickings are fairly slim at kicker. Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould are the big names, but Crosby is 38, and Gould is 40. Both were efficient last season, but neither has the power they possessed in their primes.
The Broncos opted to invite 33-year-old Brett Maher to try out on Wednesday. Maher had a spectacular regular season in 2022 with the Cowboys, converting 91% of his kicks. It’s no surprise that Dallas moved on after his shocking postseason. The Cowboys scored five touchdowns against Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, but Maher only made one of his five extra-point attempts. When Dallas scored their lone touchdown against the 49ers in their second and final playoff game, Maher missed the extra point again.
Maher was a part of new Broncos head coach Sean Payton’s final New Orleans Saints team in 2021. He was plenty effective. By bringing Maher in for a tryout, Payton might be trying to put the pressure on the kicker to see if he can rebound from his embarrassing postseason. Maher will have to hit a bunch of kicks in front of the Broncos’ front office, and if he hits them he could be in line for a contract worth a couple million dollars. Miss them and he’ll miss out on the payday.
Cam Fleming, 33, is back for a third season with the Broncos on a one-year deal that could pay him up to $4 million.
The offensive tackle took on a surprisingly bulky role in the Broncos’ offense last season, thanks to the injuries that plagued the offensive line. Fleming started 15 games, the second-most in a single season of his career, and he held his own. Given how much he played and how he performed on the field, Fleming could stake a claim for the Broncos’ most valuable offensive lineman in 2022.
Fleming re-signed with the Broncos late in the 2022 offseason cycle, similar to his return this time around. When Billy Turner, the team’s projected starting right tackle, wasn’t recovered from an offseason injury for Week 1, Fleming started in his place. Fleming blew open holes and created massive running lanes. He played so well, he actually headlined DNVR’s Game Grades from Week 1.
Fleming, of course, wasn’t without flaws in 2022. He gave up seven sacks, the most of any Bronco. He gave up 28 pressures, which only trailed Dalton Risner. He tied for second on the team with six penalties. Still, OverTheCap.com estimated Cam Fleming’s market value at $10 million after last season, and Pro Football Focus rated him as the sixth-best offensive Bronco out of 37 who made an appearance in 2022.
With Garett Bolles and Mike Mike McGlinchey both making at least $17 million per year, the Broncos have their starting tackles set in stone. Fleming has no path to the starting lineup. But he should be one of the league’s top backup tackles in 2023.
With Fleming holding down the swing tackle job, the Broncos need to pick out at least two more offensive linemen to make the 53-man roster. Kyle Fuller, the 31-year-old who plays center and guard but has rarely seen the field, and Alex Forsyth, the Broncos’ seventh-round center, should probably be the favorites for the job. Quinn Bailey, Isaiah Prince, Luke Wattenberg and others will provide strong competition. Undrafted rookies Alex Palczewski and Henry Byrd will also have an outside shot to make the team.
Tyler Lancaster, 28, made his name in Green Bay, where he started 21 games over his four-year career. Fifteen of those starts came in his first two seasons, 2018 and 2019. He signed a minimum deal with the Raiders last offseason but put him on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury before the season and released him a week later.
Lancaster is a traditional nose tackle. He’s 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds, and he can fill space in the middle of the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t offer much in terms of pass-rush ability, but that’s not really his game anyway.
Lancaster won’t be a lock to make the roster. His most likely path to a roster spot is beating out Mike Purcell. Depending on the details of Lancaster’s contract, the Broncos should save a little more than $2.5 million by picking Lancaster over Purcell, which will tip the odds slightly in the new guy’s favor.
Lancaster could also beat out Eyioma Uwazarike for a backup defensive tackle job, but the Broncos are unlikely to move on from their 2022 fourth-round pick before his second season. Lancaster would be more expensive than Uwazarike anyway. Undrafted free agent PJ Mustipher out of Penn State was one of the stars of rookie minicamp and will compete for a nose tackle job as well.