Denver Broncos: Examining the Controversial Decision to Sign Connor Barth

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Denver Broncos: Examining the Controversial Decision to Sign Connor Barth
Nell Redmond/Associated Press

If the Denver Broncos were to cut Brandon McManus, it seemed that it would be Jay Feely who would take his place. If not, it was likely that McManus would stay.

It didn't appear likely that Connor Barth would seize the kicking job. But that's exactly what he did.

Barth signed with the Broncos on Tuesday to replace the inaccurate McManus. McManus, who made nine of 13 field goals and had a long of just 44 yards this season, had his contract terminated.

Despite boasting one of the league's strongest legs, as evidenced by his touchback rate of 75 percent, McManus' field-goal struggles overshadowed his ability to get the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs.

Barth, who is seemingly the anti-McManus, isn't as capable of kicking the ball far. He also didn't make any field goals in 2013 because, well, he was out for the year with a torn Achilles. 

Before the season, he was cut by Tampa Bay (Patrick Murray) for a kicker who has made just 13 of 17 field goals this year. He hadn't latched on despite trying out for the Detroit Lions, which seemed to show that Barth's recovery from his injury might not have gone optimally.

So why did the Broncos choose Barth over the more experienced Feely and the stronger McManus?

With the rule change for kickoffs, do you trust Connor Barth when it comes to touchbacks?

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For all of Barth's perceived struggles with kickoffs, he's never attempted one when kickoffs have been moved up to the 35-yard line. According to Football Outsiders, the touchback rate from 2011-13 has increased by 33.4 percent from 1994-2010, when kickoffs were from the 30-yard line.

Barth's 1.3 percent touchback rate in 2010, when kickoffs were from the 30-yard line, isn't impressive by any means, but when you add 33.4 percent to that number, you get a much more respectable 34.7 percent. 

Additionally, the Mile High altitude increases touchbacks dramatically. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McManus' touchback rate was 37.7 percent higher at home than on the road this season.

Factoring in that the Broncos have two home games and three road games, the altitude would affect Barth's overall touchback rate by 15.1 percent. When you add that to 34.7 percent, you end up with a number around 50 percent.

Sure, McManus has a stronger leg. But risking losing games because of missed field goals isn't worth an extra touchback for every four kickoffs.

Most agree that Barth is a better option than McManus, but what puzzled lots of fans was the choice not to sign the experienced Feely.

First of all, Feely (38) is older than Barth (28). The Broncos have had many solid kickers, such as Matt Prater, Rich Karlis and Jason Elam. However, it's tough to find a reliable, long-term answer, and that's what Barth can be.

Who should be the Broncos' kicker?

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Additionally, the differences in field-goal kicking are marginal. Barth actually has a better field-goal percentage in his career, and in his last two seasons, he has drilled 88.5 percent of his kicks. Feely made 83.3 percent of his field goals in 2013, which isn't bad. 

As for kickoffs, Feely has a touchback rate of 38.2 percent since kickoffs were moved to the 50-yard line. That's marginally better than Barth's adjusted kickoff rate, giving Feely no clear advantage.

With Barth's accuracy and his touchback ability in Denver's thin air, he is the ideal kicker for Denver. The Broncos don't need a strong leg; they need a kicker who can make field goals now and for years to come.

Barth is that kicker.

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