Detroit Lions failed to re-sign Matt Prater, then spent more money looking for replacement

Detroit Free Press

Dave Fipp had been in his role as Detroit Lions special teams coordinator only a few weeks when he was asked to evaluate former Lions kicker Matt Prater.

Prater had one of the worst kicking seasons of his career last year, and with free agency on the horizon the new Lions brass wanted to know if Fipp thought Prater’s struggles were a sign of decline or due to something else.

“I didn’t feel like I thought he had slipped at all, really,” Fipp said Thursday. “I personally felt like he had missed some kicks the year before here, I didn’t think that was all necessarily just him. So yeah, I felt strongly about him.”

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The Lions, despite Fipp’s assessment, showed lukewarm interest in re-signing Prater, who instead inked a two-year, $6.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals at the start of free agency.

Prater returns to Ford Field on Sunday when the Lions (1-11-1) host the Cardinals, looking once again like one of the best kickers in the NFL.

Through 13 games, Prater has made 20 of 25 kicks (80%), including 6 of 8 from 50-plus yards. He drilled a 62-yarder in a Week 2 win over the Minnesota Vikings, when he also hit the game-winner with 4:25 to play. He earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after drilling three field goals in a Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns. And last week, he made kicks of 53, 53 and 49 yards in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Last season, Prater made 21 of 28 field goals (75%) and missed three extra points for the Lions.

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“He’s doing great,” Fipp said. “He’s doing all the kickoffs now, which he didn’t do all that here and he’s just got, he’s got an unbelievable leg. He’s really talented. He’s a great player. … He’s not fallen off at all. He looks great.”

Prater made one Pro Bowl appearance in his seven seasons in Detroit and cemented his reputation as one of the most clutch kickers in the NFL with a slew of a late-game field goals.

The Lions struggled to replace him early this season, and have cycled through seven kickers in the past five months while searching for stability.

In training camp, the Lions held a kicking battle between free agents Randy Bullock and Matthew Wright.

They waived Wright in August, signed Zane Gonzalez, then let both Bullock and Gonzalez go just before the regular season, when they claimed Austin Seibert off waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Seibert made 10 of 12 field goals before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. Ryan Santoso was 2 of 3 as his replacement, but was cut after missing an extra point and overtime field goal in a 16-16 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Riley Patterson (4 of 4) and practice squad kicker Aldrick Rosas (1 of 1) have handled field goals in recent weeks, but the Lions have committed more cap money to their kickers this season ($2.3 million, according to Spotrac) than the Cardinals did Prater ($2 million).

“I know we thought really highly of him,” Fipp said. “Like how the whole process went down and all the decisions, and was there money behind that and all that stuff, I don’t really know all the answers to that. I know I can say I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Briefly

Alex Anzalone returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after sitting Wednesday with a sprained ankle. Receiver Josh Reynolds was added to the injury report as a limited participant because of a thigh injury. D’Andre Swift (shoulder), Jonah Jackson (back), Julian Okwara (ankle) and Will Holden (not injury related) remain out for the Lions.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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