12:45pm: In a corresponding (and unsurprising) move, Maher will be released, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. After losing out on the Broncos’ job, Maher will now need to move quickly to find another opportunity as teams sort out their kicking positions amidst roster cutdowns.
11:20am: The previously rumored Sean Payton-Wil Lutz reunion is happening. The Saints are sending the Pro Bowl kicker to the Broncos, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports. New Orleans will receive a 2024 seventh-round pick for the veteran specialist, 9News’ Mike Klis adds.
Denver cut nine-year kicker Brandon McManus early this offseason and had gone into training camp with an Elliott Fry–Brett Maher competition. After a Fry injury, Maher finished out the preseason on his own. But the team had been looking for another option. Lutz loomed as the most logical choice, assuming the Saints were OK going with a rookie UDFA at kicker. With Blake Grupe winning the job, Lutz is now en route to Colorado.
This marks the second trade between Payton and his former team this year. The Saints sent tight end Adam Trautman to the Broncos during the draft. Despite Greg Dulcich‘s presence, Trautman has worked as Denver’s starting tight end. It appears the Broncos have not seen enough from Maher, with Lutz set to resume kicking under Payton.
Lutz, 29, has been the Saints’ kicker since 2016. Payton’s final New Orleans season did not feature Lutz, who suffered an offseason injury that led to four kickers — one of them Maher — kicking for the team that year. Although Lutz earned Pro Bowl acclaim in 2019, he has not been as accurate since. Coming off a groin injury that required two surgeries — the second after a setback — Lutz made a career-low 74.2% of his field goal tries last season. In 2020, Lutz connected on just more than 82% of his attempts. He cleared an 86% make rate from 2017-19, earning an extension for his early-career work. Lutz did fare well during training camp this year, however, per NOLA.com’s Jeff Duncan.
The Saints, naturally, reworked Lutz’s contract this offseason, reducing his salary from $3.7MM to $2.2MM. The adjustment gave Lutz a $500K signing bonus. He is tied to a $1.25MM base salary in the final year of this contract. The Saints will eat more than $1MM in dead money by making this trade, but they will have a rookie-contract kicker in place.
McManus had been the Broncos’ kicker since 2014, but Payton signed off on making him a post-June 1 cut. As the Broncos used some of those savings to sign Frank Clark, their Fry-Maher competition had underwhelmed. Both players missed kicks in their first preseason game, and Maher is coming off one of the worst playoff games a kicker has ever gone through. The veteran followed up his four-PAT-miss wild-card game by missing another in the Cowboys’ divisional-round loss to the 49ers. It is safe to expect Maher to be cut before the 3pm CT deadline today.