Broncos kicker Matt Prater has been notified by the NFL he will be suspended through the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The violation was alcohol-related. Prater has been in the league's alcohol program since soon after he was charged with driving under the influence Aug. 12, 2011.
The four-game suspension, which is expected to be announced Monday, was part of an agreement reached between Prater's attorney, Harvey Steinberg, and the league, so an appeal is not expected. The NFL had initially threatened a one-year suspension.
"No one feels worse about this than Matt Prater," Steinberg said. "He feels terribly for his teammates. It's cost him personally, both professionally and financially. I wonder if we shouldn't take a second look at the policy when only a couple beers were consumed at home while he was on vacation. Having said that, the NFL under the constraints of the policy couldn't have treated us better."
This is potentially a major blow to the Broncos because Prater by nearly any measure is the league's best kicker. He topped the NFL last season with a 96.2 field-goal percentage by making 25-of-26 — including a 64-yarder in a December win against the Tennessee Titans that broke a 43-year league record.
Prater also led the NFL by a wide margin last season with 81 kickoff touchbacks and was second with 150 points.
"I've made some mistakes," Prater said. "I'm accepting full responsibility. I'll learn from it and come back a better person. I want to apologize to my teammates, my coaches, the Broncos' organization and the fans."
It's unclear how the Broncos will replace Prater. The team's backup kicker, Mitch Ewald, is a rookie from Indiana University. Ewald has been getting his share of field-goal attempts during training camp and converted all four of his 33-yard extra points during the Broncos' first two preseason wins against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
Then again, the Broncos as Super Bowl contenders may also consider an NFL kicker with regular-season experience. As it pertains to the game of football, kickers don't do much except decide outcomes.
Perhaps, the best way for the Broncos to overcome Prater's absence would be to score touchdowns. The Broncos scored a league-best 71 touchdowns last year — 55 on Peyton Manning passes — and had the best red-zone percentage (.761) by converting 51-of-67 attempts from inside the opponents' 20.
Prater's suspension covers five weeks of the 17-week season because of a Week 4 bye.