Moments after the 2023 NFL Draft concluded, the Patriots signed an undrafted rookie free agent deal with Louisville dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Cunningham finished his five-year career with 9,660 passing yards and 70 touchdowns. He also rushed for 3,179 yards and 50 touchdowns on the ground.
In 2022, Cunningham had a down year to his standards. He played in 10 games and completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns. He added 565 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Cunningham produced 120 total touchdowns in his five years at Louisville. Furthermore, Cunningham has one more total touchdown than Lamar Jackson did in his career with the Cardinals, the last player to win the Heisman Trophy from Louisville.
Cunningham’s best season was in 2021, when he averaged 305.5 passing yards per game with a 62.0 completion percentage, totaling 2,941 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also added 1,031 rushing yards (fifth in the ACC) and scored 20 touchdowns (fourth-best nationally).
The Patriots passed up on the opportunity to draft Jackson twice in the 2018 NFL Draft, and ever since we’ve seen how highly Bill Belichick thinks of the now-former league MVP and truly considers it a missed opportunity.
It’s fair to say Belichick didn’t want to miss out on the next best possible dual-threat quarterback he could find, even though it was presumed the quarterback controversy was over, signing Cunningham will re-open the speculation window in New England.
Mac Jones led the Patriots to the playoffs during his rookie season in 2021, finishing with 3,801 yards and 22 touchdown passes under a legitimate NFL offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. Unfortunately, that season was followed by a dysfunctional offense led by Matt Patricia, who is no longer with the team, leading to Jones having a down year.
It’s hard to believe that the Patriots don’t think Jones is the quarterback of the future after drafting him 15th overall and watching him lead the team to the playoffs as a rookie. If anything, the stalemate is Belichick not liking Jones’ attitude and possibly going behind his back for advice on how to handle the situation last season.
Bailey Zappe also proved to have control and poise under center in the less than a handful of games he saw action in. At one point, Zappe did appear to look better throughout all the dysfunction than Jones did.
The Patriots signed free agent quarterback Trace McSorley two weeks before the NFL Draft. McSorely was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round in 2019 and was signed off their practice squad in 2021 by the Arizona Cardinals. He’s only played in nine games in his career.
Cunningham will have a legitimate opportunity to compete for a quarterback position in Bill O’Brien’s “clean slate” offense. As a result, Cunningham could realistically become the Patriots’ third-string quarterback at the end of camp and perhaps even the backup to Jones.
We still don’t know how O’Brien’s offense is going to look this season. Perhaps Zappe or Cunningham are better suited for the system. Only time will tell. But for now, the Patriots have a great quarterback situation with Cunningham in the room.
Lastly, Patriots Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh suggested the team was interested in drafting a quarterback during the week they brought in Will Levis for a Top-30 visit. Although he wasn’t drafted, it seems like the Patriots still landed a quarterback they were high on in the moments after the draft.