Allen Park – The Lions know what it’s like to be without a reliable kicker and aren’t interested in repeating the error of their ways. The team agreed to a three-year extension with Matt Prater on Wednesday morning, a move which should keep the veteran standout in Detroit through the 2020 season.
“It kind of happened quick,” Prater said. “Management came up and wanted to get a deal done. I was excited and all about staying in Detroit and hopefully retiring here.
“There’s no place I’d rather be than Detroit.”
The three-year extension is worth $11.4 million, with escalators that could raise it to $12.15 million, according to the NFL Network. Prater will receive a $3.6 million signing bonus.
“Matt is among the best kickers in the National Football League and has proven that time and time again since coming to Detroit in 2014,” general manager Bob Quinn wrote in a statement. “This extension solidifies our kicking game through 2020. I would like to thank Matt and his representatives for their work on getting this contract extension completed.”
Prater, 33, has been a godsend after the Lions went through more than a year of struggles finding a replacement for Jason Hanson, following his retirement in 2013.
The team initially turned to David Akers, another accomplished veteran, but one who was coming off double-hernia surgery. Akers missed five of his 24 attempts in 2013, his final NFL season.
In 2014, the Lions drafted Nate Freese out of Boston College as a long-term solution. Strong-legged and accurate, he had made 86.4 percent of his kicks in college, including a perfect 20-20 season as a senior. But that consistency vanished with the Lions.
After barely fending off a training camp challenge from Giorgio Tavecchio, Freese lasted just three weeks into the regular season, missing four of his seven field-goal attempts before he was released. Freese’s replacement, Alex Henery was even worse. He missed four of his five attempts in two games, including all three in a 17-14 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Neither Freese nor Henery have kicked in the NFL since.
Prater, who was coming off a Pro Bowl season, fell into Detroit’s lap in the middle of the 2014 season.
He actually began his career with the Lions, backing up Hanson during training camp in 2006 as an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida. After brief stops in Miami and Atlanta, Prater latched on with the Denver Broncos in 2007 and spent seven years with the team.
But after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for multiple alcohol-related offenses, he was released by the Broncos.
The Lions rolled the dice on Prater straightening out his off-field issues and he’s rewarded them for taking the risk. Over the past three years, he’s made 85.7 percent of his field goal attempts and been lethal from long range, knocking down 19 kicks from 50 yards or beyond. He set the Lions record for longest make in Jan. 2016 with a 59-yard boot against the Chicago Bears. He also holds the NFL's distance record, converting a 64-yarder while with the Broncos in 2013.
With a 55-yard field goal against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, Prater became just the second kicker in NFL history with at least 10 makes from that distance. Only Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski (13) has made more.
“He does a tremendous job, just in terms of our comfort level with attempting kicks that ordinarily you probably would not attempt in a lot of situations,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s been steady throughout his entire career, and he continues to get better.
"We’re glad to have him."
Prater has been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice this season and also earned the conference’s monthly honors in September. He earned a second return trip to the Pro Bowl in 2016.
Along with punter Sam Martin, reliable coverage units and rookie return man Jamal Agnew, the Lions special teams unit is statistically ranked as top group by Football Outsiders. The team finished sixth in 2016.
Martin, who also serves as Prater’s holder, is set to return to the lineup this week after spending the first six games on the non-football injury list with an ankle injury. The Lions re-signed Martin to a four-year extension last season, locking him up through 2020, as well.
“It’s great,” Prater said. “We have good chemistry together and work well together. I’m excited to be here with him for another three years.”