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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Patriots Cut Zoltan Mesko: Blame NFL Salary Cap?

Punters Are People Too
Former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko
Veteran punter Zoltan Mesko was cut by the Patriots this week. Mesko, a fan favorite, was in the fourth year of a 4 year contract. While not exactly Pro Bowl caliber, he was a good situational punter who often pinned opponents back inside their 20 yard line.

Was he released due to performance or a victim of NFL salary cap economics? Let's delve into this question further:

NFL Salary Cap - Quick Facts:

  • The salary cap for each NFL team in 2013 is $123M.
  • Effective 2013, the salary floor for each team is 89% of the salary cup number.
  • Salary includes all of the compensation paid to players (contract, bonus, other compensation) but does not include benefits.
  • All 53 players and practice squad players are included for salary cap purposes. Coaches, scouts and front office employees are not included.
  • Players sign contracts that include guaranteed money (signing bonuses, for instance). This is money that will be paid to the player no matter what, counts against the cap, and can be prorated over the length of the contract.
  • To comply with the salary cap, the team will renegotiate "cap friendly" deals and extensions so that they can fit all players under the cap.
  • According to the new CBA, unused cap amounts can be rolled over to the next year. So if your team is $10M under the cap, they have option to push those cap savings to the next NFL season.
  • The New England Patriots are currently $13 million UNDER the cap, however they need to maintain flexibility to sign practice squad and waiver/free agent claims.

Tale of the Tape: Mesko vs. Allen

    • CAREER: Drafted 5th Round (2010), 4th year, University of Michigan, finalist for Ray Guy Award.
    • SALARY: Set to earn $1.323 million in 2013, last year of 4 year contract.
    • STATISTICS: In 2012, he made 60 punts, 2585 yards, 43.2 yards per punt (28th in league). He had six touchbacks and 28 punts inside the 20.
    • SKILL: Experience on NFL level, acumen for pinning teams inside 20.
    • PRESEASON: 14 punts, 44.6 yards per punt, 0 touchbacks, 2 inside 20.
    • CAREER: Undrafted Free Agent (2013), rookie, Louisiana Tech, 2-time Ray Guy Award winner (best punter in NCAA).
    • SALARY: Set to earn $405,000 in 2013, first year of 3 year contract ($1.49 million total)
    • STATISTICS: Over college career, had school record 48.0 yards per punt with 20 punts inside the 20 and 21 punts over 50 yards.
    • SKILL: Stronger leg than Mesko, best punter in NCAA last 2 years.
    • PRESEASON: 9 punts, 45.9 yards per punt, 1 touchback, 4 inside 20.


Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen, by most measures, punted equally well in the preseason. The deciding factor is most likely the contracts. While the Patriots aren't exactly up against the cap, they save ~$900,000 in 2013 by cutting Mesko. The team has the strong-legged Allen under contract at close to the veteran minimum for next 2 seasons. So if you do the math, it only makes sense to go with Allen.

While I, like most of you, will miss Zoltan Mesko greatly for everything he has done on and off the field, this decision came down to money and who has the bigger upside. The NFL is a tough business, and it doesn't always feel fair. 

Good luck Zoltan, you won't be unemployed for long!

UPDATE: Zoltan Mesko signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, September 2. The Patriots face the Steelers in Week 9.

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