ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — NFL coaches preach all summer about keeping the best 53 players on the roster. Sometimes, however, money gets in the way and decisions are made based as much on payroll as performance.
The Broncos could pay the price this season for one such move.
Rookie Riley Dixon shanked an 18-yard punt in Denver’s final preseason tuneup at Arizona on Thursday night, just two days after the Broncos handed him the job by releasing seven-year incumbent Britton Colquitt, the franchise’s all-time leader in both gross and net punting average.
Dixon’s strong leg and work ethic may make that miscue nothing more than a blip, but it also highlights the dangers of going with youth over experience.
Dixon’s wobbler led to a touchdown. He also was the holder when Brandon McManus missed a 46-yard field goal in Denver’s loss to the Cardinals.
Coach Gary Kubiak called Dixon “a young kid” who’s “done a lot of good things” and has a bright future, but added, “we’ve got to be better.”
Kubiak said that seventh-round draft pick from Syracuse was experimenting on a punt that special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis has been working on with him when he shanked the 18-yarder.
“Obviously, it didn’t work out very good,” Kubiak said. “So, put that on us coaches.”
Put Colquitt’s departure on the front office.
Colquitt was due $3.25 million this season and Dixon is making $450,000.
So, the Broncos asked Colquitt to take a pay cut like he did last season.
Colquitt, who helped the Broncos become champs by pinning four punts inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line in the AFC championship and helped hold Carolina to 2 yards on three returns in the Super Bowl, declined, and that was the end of his stay in Denver.
The Broncos released the longest-tenured player on their roster Tuesday even though that leaves them with two specialists who are NFL novices in Dixon and long-snapper Casey Kreiter, who will be on his first 53-man roster when final cuts are turned into the league on Saturday.
McManus is a third-year pro who set an NFL record by making all 10 of his field goal attempts in the playoffs when Colquitt was his holder and Aaron Brewer his long-snapper.
Points proved precious last season when the Broncos won 11 close games on their way to the title. And with two quarterbacks who have never thrown an NFL pass in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, the Broncos cannot afford to give up field position or miss field goals when games count for more than conversation.
The Broncos kick off the NFL season Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers, whom they beat 24-10 in the Super Bowl.
MORE CUTS: Kubiak and GM John Elway huddled Friday to trim 22 more names from the roster and there’s a distinct possibility that all eight of Elway’s draft picks this year will make the club, an astonishing feat for a Super Bowl champion.
The biggest question mark surrounded QB Mark Sanchez, who was beaten out by Trevor Siemian and didn’t play in the final two preseason games. Lynch played the entire preseason finale and the Broncos would like him to be the No. 2 QB so he can take lots of snaps in practice.
That makes Sanchez an expensive No. 3 at $4.5 million. If the Broncos cut Sanchez, they’ll save $3.5 million and a seventh-round draft pick.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton