Record-Setting Ex-Patriots Quarterback Changes Position With New Team

Patriots former UDFA Malik Cunningham

Getty Patriots former UDFA Malik Cunningham

If you followed the Patriots through the slog of their 2023 NFL season and the 4-13 record it produced, you’ll surely look back with regret over the handling of rookie Malik Cunningham, who was electric during a brief showing in the preseason then was relegated to, essentially, no role at all once games got underway. For an offense that was so often limp and lifeless, it seemed that incorporating Cunningham was a low-risk move for a team with little to lose.

In all, Cunningham made just one appearance for the Patriots before he was poached off the practice squad by the Ravens. To make matters worse, the Ravens are now doing what the Patriots should have done all along—find a way to get Cunningham on the field. It was revealed over the weekend that Baltimore is continuing its project converting Cunningham into a wide receiver.

Team reporter Ryan Mink posted on Twitter/X: “Malik Cunningham is now officially listed as a WR (not QB) on the Ravens’ roster, btw. He made that look like the right call today with several grabs.”

Patriots Handed Out Record UDFA Contract

Cunningham was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent a year ago, and was guaranteed $200,000, which marked a franchise record for an UDFA.

There was good reason for this. Cunningham was also a record-setter at Louisville, where he followed Ravens star Lamar Jackson’s footsteps as the Cardinals quarterback. The two were teammates for Cunningham’s freshman year in 2018, and Cunnigham went on to account for 120 touchdowns, which broke Jackson’s school record for TDs, in 47 starts with Louisville.

Cunningham also threw for 9,664 yards in his college tenure, and ran for 3,318 yards, topping the 1,000-yard mark as a junior. He does not have the arm strength of Jackson, or he would have been more highly rated as a quarterback, but his success as a dual-threat QB caused repeated comparisons between the two.

“I do get tired of it a little bit, but who wouldn’t want to be compared to Lamar?” Cunningham said last year. “I mean, the great Lamar, in my opinion, the best college football player to ever play the sport. Just a role model to me, a big brother, and I’m thankful for a lot of the stuff that he does for me.”

Malik Cunningham Never Got a Shot

Now, Jackson could be throwing passes to Cunningham. Of course, it’d be nice if it was Drake Maye throwing passes to Cunningham.

In his time with the Patriots, Cunningham made his name by leading the Patriots lone touchdown drive in a preseason game against the Texans, when he was 3-for-4 passing for 19 yards and added another 34 yards rushing, including a touchdown with 1:54 to go in the game. The drive he led lasted 14 plays and covered 75 yards and was the only sign of life from the Pats that night.

While he got some work at quarterback, he did most of his practice squad work for the Patriots at receiver. There was some excitement when he was given a standard contract last October, and speculation was rampant that he’d become a bigger part of the rotation at receiver or quarterback or both.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote after the Patriots signed him, “It wasn’t a throwaway transaction. I am told the coaches are discussing ways to work Cunningham into the game plan in a somewhat significant way, possibly as early as this week against Buffalo.”

He was wrong, though. It was, indeed, a throwaway transaction, and the Patriots waived Cunningham, moving him back to the practice squad 10 days later. We never got much of a look at him in New England. He bears keeping an eye on in Baltimore.

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