COMMENTARY| Allowed up to a 90-man roster prior to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have a bloated squad. Once they start preparing for the regular season they will need to make many cuts, and some of the players who may receive their pink slips could come as a surprise.
The Patriots will use training camp to evaluate who will fit best in their schemes, while also weighing considerations like salary and health concerns. The following players may seem like locks for the roster but could find themselves unemployed prior to the start of the season.
Quarterback Tim Tebow: With Tom Brady still at the top of his game, Tebow has zero chance of earning a starting nod barring an unforeseen injury. Although the team has seen its once enviable depth at tight end reduced to question marks, the lefty signal caller won't be converted to play that position either as some have suggested.
Having signed a two-year, $1.38 million contract with the Patriots, Tebow is locked in at a modest price. However, the team may choose to go with just two quarterbacks, and in that scenario, young Ryan Mallett may get the nod because of his superior physical tools.
Tebow's roster spot will likely depend on if the team needs to carry depth at another position, or if they believe he is a promising candidate to develop in the long term while contributing as a situational player in the short term.
Punter Zoltan Mesko: Although he is a productive player (44.2 yards-per-punt average in his first three seasons), a well-liked teammate and an exemplary member of the New England community, none of that may prevent Mesko from losing his job. WEEI's Christopher Price recently wrote Mesko will have to stave off rookie Ryan Allen during training camp.
Allen attended Louisiana Tech and won the Ray Guy Award, which is presented to the best collegiate punter, in each of the past two years. He has a huge leg (averaging a school record 48.0 yards-per-punt last season). If he can offer similar production, his minimal salary from being an undrafted free agent could be the tipping point for Mesko, who is scheduled to earn $1.32 million in 2013.
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Safety Steve Gregory: Signed to a three-year contract prior to last year, Gregory suffered through a disappointing 2013 season with just 37 tackles and three interceptions in 12 games. A closer look at his numbers show exactly how underwhelming his performance actually was.
MassLive.com's Nick Underhill wrote about how statistics from showed Gregory on average missed one tackle for every five attempts, which placed him near the bottom in the NFL among safeties. He also ranked near the bottom in other advanced tackling categories as well.
The Patriots allowed 4,342 passing yards on defense last year, which was fourth-worst in the league. With veteran Adrian Wilson having signed this offseason, and young Tavon Wilson potentially ready to step up, Gregory could be sent packing if he doesn't show improvement in camp.
Conclusion: The Patriots rely on production and versatility instead of sentiment and public pressure when determining the structure of their roster. They have some veterans who may appear to be locks for spots on the team, but in reality face fights to earn their place. Training camp will be the testing ground for these players, as they seek to prolong their time in New England.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
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