Malik Cunningham Keep-or-Cut: Insider Updates Patriots’ Stance on Electric QB

Will Malik Cunningham make the Patriots?

Getty Will Malik Cunningham make the Patriots?

It’s not often that an undrafted free agent creates edge-of-your-seat drama ahead of the cut day, when all teams must be down from 90 players to 53. But it’s been a wild Patriots training camp ride for combo quarterback/receiver Malik Cunningham, and one report has it that the team still has not decided whether to keep Cunningham among the final 53 or try to slip him onto the practice squad.

Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote on Twitter that New England still is uncertain about what to do with Cunningham. The Patriots, he said, “still haven’t finalized their call on Malik Cunningham, source said. Too many roster variables still at play.”

In an ideal world, the Patriots would keep Cunningham in the fold but not use a roster spot on him, with starting quarterback Mac Jones and backup Bailey Zappe already set at the position. Letting Cunningham learn the Patriots offense in a practice squad setting would allow that.

But putting Cunningham on the practice squad makes him, effectively, a free agent and leaves him open to being poached by another team that would have a 53-man spot for him.

Cunningham was one of the few offensive highlights for a Patriots unit that scored just 36 points in three preseason games. Even that was limited—Cunningham led the Pats on a scramble-heavy, late-game touchdown drive in the preseason opener, in which he threw for 19 yards and ran for 34 yards.

After that game, Cunningham got limited action, rushing once for five years, catching a pass for a loss of 1-yard and going 0-for-2 passing.

Were the Patriots Hiding Cunningham?

It was suggested by NBC Sports insider Phil Perry that New England’s approach with Cunningham this summer was designed to make him a practice-squadder. The Patriots pushed Cunningham not as a quarterback, but as a future wide receiver, despite the fact that Cunningham broke Lamar Jackson’s passing yardage record while he was at Louisville.

Perhaps there was some ulterior motivation there—maybe the team was shielding Cunningham from the view of the league’s other 31 teams.

“Bill Belichick may have tried to keep Malik Cunningham’s quarterback ability out of sight these last few weeks,” Perry wrote. “If he wants to be able to waive Cunningham and get him onto the practice squad, limiting the quarterback film Cunningham was able to post this summer would be one way to do it.”

Belichick Comments on Cunningham’s Play

Belichick, obviously, was not making any major revelations about Cunningham ahead of cut-down day, but had some praise for him when he appeared on the Greg Hill show on WEEI in Boston on Monday.

“Malik is a really interesting player. Kid never played receiver before or returned kicks, and he’s done both,” Belichick said, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “As well as playing quarterback. He certainly has some things on his resume. So do other players. We’ll see how all that plays out.”

Whether he is a quarterback or a receiver or a return man or, heck, a linebacker, Cunningham told reporters this week he’ll line up wherever he is asked.

“I’m a football player. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it,” he said. “I feel like I did good over those three games. A lot to learn from, a lot to take on the chin, a lot of things I did good, a lot more things I need to work on as a quarterback or receiver, wherever they put me at. It’s a blessing just to be here. I just want to thank God again for the glory and blessing me with these abilities, and we’ll see where things go from here.”

But is “here” the 53-man roster? Or the practice squad? Stay tuned.

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