Brandon McManus’ money better spent by Broncos, Sean Payton elsewhere

Brandon McManus was fun every day but Sunday. The Broncos kept writing checks McMoney’s leg couldn’t cash.

Over Big No. 8’s last 15 field-goal tries at Empower Field from 50 yards out or longer, the man connected on just eight. Since September 2017, from a distance of 54-65 yards at Mile High, he nailed six and missed eight (42.8%).

Context: Five opposition kickers have tried that kick from the same length here during the previous six seasons. Four of those five attempts — 80% — were true.

McManus is a crazy good dude, a thinking man’s kicker, professional to the last. Alas, the clutch gene left McMoney about the time DJ LeMahieu left the Rockies. And neither the Broncos nor Coors Field have felt quite the same since.

“Brandon has been a key player and presence with the Broncos for nearly a decade,” GM George Paton said as the team announced earlier this week it was releasing its last remaining piece from the Super Bowl 50 champs, “(having made) outstanding contributions to our team and community. Brandon made so many clutch kicks for this franchise over the years.”

Lately, though? Not so much.

The 31-year-old McManus was 11 for his last 19 (57.9%) on field-goal tries during the last two minutes of a half. He was four for his last 11 (36.3%) on those last-two-minute attempts from 50 yards out or more. Meanwhile, the Broncos are 4-11 since September 2020 in games decided by four points or fewer.

Precious few of those 11 defeats landed on McMoney’s tab, we’ll grant you. Yet No. 8 was also the one on the sideline whispering sweet nothings into the ears of any Broncos head coach who would listen, promising Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from long distance and delivering LeBron James instead.

Sean Payton wasn’t going to put up with any of that crapola. Not a word. There’s only one face of the Broncos now, only one voice that counts. And it’s not Russell Wilson’s.

As the most-tenured Bronco, McManus was a culture cut, one less voice telling Payton that his way ain’t how things usually get done around here. No. 8 proved to be a welcome breath of fresh air on a bunch of bad teams. But thoughtful, free spirits in a losing NFL locker room need to be really, really good, really, really cheap, or both.

McMoney was neither. And ranking sixth among NFL kickers in terms of your salary cap hit while also ranking 29th in field-goal percentage is a perfect storm of bad metrics that bean-counters are going to flag 11 times out of 10. Nor did it help McManus that the league’s declared open warfare on kick returns, fearing head injuries and lawsuits (mostly the lawsuits). The NFL this week tweaked the rules so that any kick caught at or behind 25-yard line as a fair catch will automatically be placed at the 25, regardless of where it was snared.

Add it all up and No. 8 became a luxury item, with his release offering a net cap savings of either $3.75 million or $2.5 million to play with, depending on the specific designation. That might not sound like much. But on a roster that could use a Deion Sanders makeover, every nickel helps.

Loosening the belt a little helps bring Cam Fleming back as a swing tackle, for instance. And as of Wednesday, had pegged free-agent blocker George Fant’s market value at $3.3 million per year and free-agent tailback Leonard Fournette’s number at $2.3 million.

With McManus, we’ll always have Santa Clara. Broncos Country will never forget the mulligan against the Bengals in 2015. Or the three chippies in Super Bowl 50. As the NFL winds blew the pillars of a champion apart, No. 8 hung tough, cranking out the old hits even as his snappers, holders and special teams coaches failed him.

Paton broke up the group. Payton’s singing lead. And the Broncos don’t have the time or McMoney to wax nostalgic anymore.

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