Cincinnati Bengals: Zoltan Mesko

Free-agency primer: Bengals

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins, S Taylor Mays, S Chris Crocker, WR/KR/PR Brandon Tate, OG Mike Pollak

Where they stand: Last week the NFL's franchise/transition tag deadline came and went without the Bengals using either designation for the first time in three years. Johnson, who held the team's franchise tag in 2013, enters free agency with the ability to go anywhere he picks up a quality offer. The Bengals are hoping to extend a strong-enough offer to him, but teams like the Vikings and Falcons could enter the stakes and raise his price tag even higher. Cincinnati is also currently at a standstill with Collins, another big-name free agent who could soon call another city home.

Earlier this week, the Bengals tendered restricted free agents Andrew Hawkins, Vincent Rey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Since they weren't drafted, the Bengals won't be receiving any draft-pick compensation in the event they don't match other offers that those three will receive.

What to expect: Some teams are always heavy players in free agency. That's not really the case for the Bengals. They'll do what they can to re-sign the 14 free agents they currently have, but outside of that, don't expect much wheeling, dealing and spending. Johnson and Collins will receive the bulk of the Bengals' attention early in the free-agency period, with other players being handed offers in the background. Mays, Tate and Pollak in particular are unrestricted free agents whose fates remain somewhat uncertain. Tate and Pollak have more of a legitimate chance at being re-signed, although Mays could still assist in the team's defensive backfield depth. Don't expect punter Zoltan Mesko to be re-signed. The player he replaced in December, Kevin Huber, is still rehabbing from a broken jaw but should be fully healthy long before the 2014 season begins.

If the Bengals make any external additions during free agency, they are most likely to do so with fairly cheap veteran players who could assist with immediate depth. Defensive ends, cornerbacks and running backs are among those who could be added.
CINCINNATI -- At the moment Shawn Powell's foot connected with the football for a second time last Sunday, all of Paul Brown Stadium knew what would be coming in the next few days.

The punter would be packing his bags.

The odds seemed high that after his 10-yard shank made a beeline for the second row of stands behind the Bengals' bench, his short stay in Cincinnati would come to an end. Tuesday afternoon, it officially did.

[+] EnlargeZoltan Mesko
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesZoltan Mesko was with the Steelers for seven games this season, averaging 42.5 yards per punt.
Bengals special-teams coach Darrin Simmons told reporters this week what most had already assumed: The shanked punt played a key role in Powell getting waived, and Zoltan Mesko signed to take his spot ahead of Sunday's first-round playoff game against the Chargers.

"I hated that it didn't work out for Shawn. I know he wanted it to and I wanted it to for him," Simmons said. "But there comes a time when we're trying to win a series of games and a 10-yard punt is like a blocked punt to me. When we're playing critical games and field position is such a factor, that figures into it. Sometimes, it's just not the right place or the right time for someone or something. So we decided to make a change."

The punt didn't end up hurting the Bengals too badly. Although it was part of a rough third quarter that got the Ravens back into the contest, Cincinnati ended up holding on for a 34-17 win in the regular-season finale.

In Mesko, the Bengals are getting a fourth-year punter who has kicked on the big postseason stage before. Signed by the Bills after the 2012 draft, Powell didn't have the experience Mesko had.

Along with spending seven games this season with the Steelers, Mesko punted three seasons for the New England Patriots. He performed in the playoffs each of those years, averaging a net of 40.1 yards per punt in the postseason. That figure is actually higher than his regular-season average of 39.0 yards. Mesko is hopeful he can help factor into the Bengals' postseason success, but he's not sure if simply playing in the postseason will be much of a benefit or not.

"Just because I have playoff experience doesn't mean it's going to pay off for me," Mesko said. "The experience is always good. But I'm saying I have to earn it and we all have to earn this victory."

Mesko wasn't part of the five-man group of punters who the Bengals invited to tryout for the position two days after Kevin Huber suffered a season-ending injury at Pittsburgh. Huber was lost when a vicious blindside hit from the Steelers' Terence Garvin broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck.

Even though they felt more comfortable going in Powell's direction two weeks ago, the Bengals believe they made the right decision to sign Mesko this time.

"For me, it's a plug-and-play thing," Simmons said. "The thing you try to do with somebody new when it's a crash course is you try to reduce their anxiety with change. So there's little change that we could have for him. That's a positive."

Mesko said he only needed one day to get into a rhythm catching snaps from long-snapper Clark Harris. Like Powell and Huber, Mesko will be holding for kicker Mike Nugent on field goal and point-after attempts.

Bengals release Powell, make signings

December, 31, 2013
CINCINNATI -- Two days after horribly shanking a punt that traveled just 10 yards, punter Shawn Powell was released by the Cincinnati Bengals and replaced by a more veteran kicker.

Zoltan Mesko, a fourth-year player who was drafted by New England and most recently punted for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was signed Tuesday as the Bengals continue trying to adequately fill the spot that opened when Kevin Huber's season ended thanks to a broken jaw suffered three weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Two days after Huber's injury, Powell was added to the roster. The former Florida State All-American appeared in two games, most recently punting three times in Sunday's 34-17 win over the Ravens.

Two of Powell's punts landed inside the 20. One of them actually bounced once before being fielded by a member of the Bengals' coverage team and downed on the 1.

It was the third punt, though, that got Powell in trouble. As part of a third quarter that ultimately resulted in the Ravens rallying from a 17-9 deficit to tie the game at 17, Powell mishit one kick. On the fourth-and-12, the ball traveled just 10 yards before hooking left and drifting out of bounds over the Bengals sideline and into the first two rows of the stands. Before playing for Cincinnati, Powell had been out of work since the beginning of October, when he was waived by the Bills after allowing one punt return touchdown, and coming within a tackle of another.

While with the Steelers during the season's first seven games, Mesko averaged 42.5 yards on 34 punts with a net average of 36.7 yards. He had three punts inside the 20 and two touchbacks. He was released by Pittsburgh on Oct. 29.

Along with with Mesko's signing, the Bengals also added tight end Kevin Brock on Tuesday. He will fill the lone available roster spot that came open Monday when the Bengals placed tight end Alex Smith on injured reserve. Smith, who served as the No. 1 tight end in Sunday's game, dislocated a wrist against Baltimore. With him out, the Bengals are hoping Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will be able to return ahead of Sunday's first-round AFC playoff game against San Diego. Both were inactive last weekend after suffering injuries the week before.

If Gresham is still bothered by his hamstring and Eifert is still dealing with the effects of a stinger, the Bengals would be down to Brock and H-back Orson Charles at the position.

Brock spent four games with Kansas City this year, catching three passes for 36 yards. He also played in two games with Buffalo during the 2011 season, catching two passes for 27 yards.

In addition to his signing and Mesko's, the Bengals also signed free agent kicker Quinn Sharp to a future contract. Signed as a reserve, the first-year player cannot work or count toward the active roster until the day following the Super Bowl. He was the third player signed to a Bengals future contract in two days. Sharp spent the preseason with Cincinnati, going 2-for-2 on field goals and 3-for-3 on point-after attempts before getting waived Aug. 26.