When it comes to potential contract extensions for Detroit Lions players this offseason, the conversation has surrounded just two players: Kenny Golladay and Taylor Decker. However, those aren’t the only two key players entering a contract year in 2020.
Matt Prater is entering the final year of the three-year extension he signed with the Lions back in 2017. That’s no minor thing, as we all remember what happened when the Lions moved on from Jason Hanson after the 2012 season. If you don’t remember, here’s a quick reminder: David Akers went just 19-of-24 in 2013, then after drafting a kicker in 2014, the Lions went just 4-of-12 on field goals until Prater fell into their lap midseason.
So is Prater as big of a priority re-signing as Golladay and Decker? Let’s take a closer look.
Expectations heading into 2019
2018 was one of Prater’s most accurate seasons to date. He made 28-of-32 field goals and made every extra point. There were no real signs of any fatigue in his leg, even though he was just 3-of-5 from 50+ yards.
In other words, Prater was expected to be one of the most reliable players on the roster. He was essentially an afterthought because of how dependable he is.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 9 games (2 starts): 26-of-31 FGs made, 35-of-36 XPs made
PFF grade: 74.7 (5th out of 35 Ks)
2019 was business as usual for Prater. He missed just five field goals all season and just one extra point. Perhaps most impressive from Prater was his accuracy from long distance. He made 7-of-8 field goals from 50 yards or longer, including a 56 yarder. Only one other kicker in the NFL made more 50+ yard field goals—Joey Slye, who went 8-of-11.
His overall accuracy percent of 83.9 percent was not exactly eye-popping (14th in NFL), but considering his strength from long distance and his long-term dependability, this was still a solid season from Prater.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2020 (UFA)
Now entering the final year of his contract as the ninth-highest paid kicker (by cap hit), Prater and the Lions have a big decision ahead. Prater said back in 2017 that he’d love finish his career in Detroit, but the Lions have already shown they’re willing to skimp on some special teams positions—choosing to let punter Sam Martin hit free agency despite a solid 2019 season.
However, kicker is an entirely different position. Games are often won or lost because of kickers, and Prater’s body of work and reliability are much more consistent than that of Martin.
So how much would an extension cost for Prater? The best comparison is likely that of Robbie Gould, who is actually a tad older than Prater. Gould signed a four-year, $19 million contract with the 49ers in 2019, which included $10.5 million guaranteed. (Note: the final two year on the deal are a team option, so it could, in theory, be a two-year, $10.5 million deal). You’d have to imagine Prater would see almost identical numbers, as long as both parties are interested in making a deal.
Retirement is also a topic that has to be broached. Prater will be 36 by the time the season starts, and there are currently only three kickers older than him in the NFL: Stephen Gostkowski (36), Gould (37) and Adam Vinatieri (47, though currently unsigned). Prater has not made any comments suggesting he’s interested in retiring right now, and his play has not dropped off significantly enough to warrant retirement, but you never really know when a player wants to hang them up.
If Prater is still interested in playing, he’s a no-brainer re-signing for the Lions. The NFC North has taught us that if you find a good kicker, you hold onto him dearly. And while Prater isn’t coming off his best year, he’s still very clearly a reliable kicker, and that’s worth keeping.