If you tuned in for the Denver Broncos' 2023 preseason opener on Friday night, a game the Broncos lost to the Arizona Cardinals 18-17 in the final seconds, there was a lot to take away from it.
Russell Wilson did throw a touchdown pass, but he didn't give any reason for fans to be optimistic that he is going to be any better this season. There were also several players on the roster who improved their stock during the contest.
But one thing that sticks out more than anything, at least to me, is how bad the kicking game looks. Both Brett Maher and Elliott Fry missed kicks in this game and I stand by the thought that neither of these guys will be the team's kicker come Week 1.
Maher's first field-goal attempt of the game, from 47 yards, wasn't really even close.
Not to be outdone, on the team's very next possession, the other kicker, Elliott Fry, was wide right from 50 yards. Fry did belt a 55-yard field goal just before halftime, an impressive kick, but one that you would have a hard time convincing anyone that he can make consistently.
Later in the game, Maher, who will forever be remembered as the kicker that miss four extra points in a playoff game last season, came on for a 52-yard attempt and had it blocked.
Both kickers each made their only extra point attempts, so at least there is that. But this team is just not good enough to have a kicking issue. The Broncos have been anemic on offense in recent years and Friday night's effort did nothing to change the thought of that, even if it was just preseason.
The Broncos are going to need every point they can get, they can't leave points on the field because the kicker is bad and both Maher and Fry are bad. So, what's the solution?
Payton and the front office could wait until roster cuts are made before the season starts and try and scoop up a guy on waivers that could come in and be their new kicker. There are some interesting competitions around the league this summer and the Broncos should have their eyes on each of them.
Los Angeles Chargers: Dustin Hopkins vs. Cameron Dicker
Washington Commanders: Joey Slye vs. Mike Badgley
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chase McLaughlin vs. Rodrigo Blankenship
Carolina Panthers: Eddy Pineiro vs. Matthew Wright
Depending on how those turn out, an argument can be made that all of those kickers are better than the two in Denver. There is also Nick Folk, a long-time veteran who will likely be out in New England after the team chose Chad Ryland in the fourth round this year.
But, there is the San Francisco 49ers, who may have the situation that fits the Broncos the best.
The Niners used their third-round pick to select Jake Moody out of Michigan. Moody was a great college kicker and ended up being the MVP of this year's East-West Shrine Bowl. He is going to win the job in San Francisco, which could leave their other kicker in limbo.
That kicker is Zane Gonzalez. This past March, San Francisco acquired Gonzalez from the Carolina Panthers in an exchange of late-round picks in 2025. Gonzalez missed all of last season after injuring his quad while warming up for a preseason game. The Panthers brought in Pineiro, who kicked well, making Gonzalez expendable.
The Niners likely planned to proceed with Gonzalez as their kicker, but couldn't pass up on Moody when they saw him sitting on the board in the draft. But Gonzalez is still a valuable kicker. He has made 80.5 percent of his career field goals and missed just seven of 134 career extra points.
He is 28 years old and is a superior kicker to both Maher and Fry. The Broncos can continue with this kicker battle in the preseason if they must, or they could send the following trade offer to San Francisco.
The Broncos have two seventh-round picks in next year's draft and this would give the 49ers at least some compensation in return for a player they will almost certainly cut anyway.
After watching film from Friday's game, it's hard to imagine that Payton isn't going to want much better than what the team currently has at the kicker position. They could maybe look at trotting both Maher and Fry out one more time to redeem themselves, but neither kicker seems to be a good long-term answer and Gonzalez could be had for next to nothing.