Patriots Planning ‘Somewhat Significant’ Role for QB Malik Cunningham: Insider

Malik Cunningham, Patriots quarterback

Getty Malik Cunningham, Patriots quarterback

Last Sunday in Las Vegas, just below the tale of another disappointing offensive performance in a loss and a missed opportunity against a so-so NFL team, a different storyline was playing out. It’s one that could have repercussions in the near and long terms, too. The story: What’s the plan for the future of the Patriots quarterback Malik Cunningham?

It is, perhaps, indicative of where the team is at this point that one of the most compelling storylines is a 25-year-old undrafted rookie whose NFL debut yielded six snaps, and no other stats besides taking a five-yard loss on a sack. After Week 6, Cunningham has a quarterback rating of 0.1.

But he was the team’s backup to Mac Jones that week, a significant role considering Jones had been benched during the previous two games. And he was signed to a three-year contract off the team’s practice unit on Saturday, rather than given a standard practice-squad elevation.

That’s a signal of more to come, according to one insider.

“It wasn’t a throwaway transaction,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote. “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. The Patriots thought they put forth a better effort Sunday against the Raiders, but they still lost the game and are looking for a lot more from the quarterback position than what Mac Jones is giving them.”

Could the Patriots Use Malik Cunningham More at Quarterback?

Fowler then posited the question that most Patriots fans are, no doubt, considering now: Could the Patriots use Malik Cunningham as their quarterback? Not just in a gadget-y way, either. Could he replace Mac Jones?

Of course, the answer on that is, slow down.

“Anything’s possible, but we’re a ways away from that being a consideration,” Fowler wrote. “What Cunningham could give the Pats is a little bit of a different look at the position, mixing in some quarterback runs and moving the pocket to help diversify and expand the passing game. Again, this is all still hypothetical at this point, because the Patriots are still not entirely sure what the rookie is capable of doing at the NFL level at this point.”

Mac Jones is still the quarterback in New England, and coach Bill Belichick has been a staunch supporter of Jones. He should be. Jones is the guy Belichick drafted with a first-round pick to take over for Tom Brady, and he has a lot invested in him.

But the Week 6 maneuvers around Cunningham do signal that the Patriots are at least thinking about Jones contingency plans, examining the options they have on hand.

Bill Belichick Tight-Lipped on Cunningham

For the short term, Belichick was decidedly and characteristically tight-lipped about what the team will do with Cunningham in Week 7 against Buffalo.

Will he be the backup quarterback again?

“We’ll work our way through the roster situation as we go through the week. We’re not going to talk about how we’re going to play the game,” Belichick said on Wednesday, according to the team’s transcript.

If he is the backup, would the Patriots be OK with him taking over for Jones in case of an injury?

“If he was the number two, that’s what it would be,” Belichick said.

Would the Patriots consider leaving him out there for a full set of downs?

“Look, he’s a young player, so he’s improving. We’ll see how it goes,” the chatty coach added.

Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was somewhat more verbose, saying that Cunningham could see time at quarterback, where he starred at Louisville, or at receiver, the position the team has frequently worked him at for the last five months. But he was not tipping the Pats’ Week 7 hand, either.

“You could see him at different spots throughout the offense obviously other than offensive line, he can play a lot of different places,” O’Brien said Tuesday, via the Boston Herald. “So, it will be week to week based on the game plan and we’re pretty early in this week so I don’t think we have any idea where that will be this week.”

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