The New England Patriots followed through on not drafting a quarterback, but the team signed an undrafted free agent signal caller instead.
Former Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham signed with the Patriots on Saturday, April 29, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. New England gave him a contract with $200,000 “in total guarantees” plus a $30,000 signing bonus according to Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports.
“This is the most the Patriots have ever guaranteed an undrafted free agent,” Kyed reported.
New England head coach and general manager Bill Belichick confirmed during the draft that starter Mac Jones will get a shot at keeping his job amid trade and draft speculation. The Patriots also have Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley on the roster.
“Yeah, I mean, look, Mac’s been our quarterback for two years,” Belichick told reporters on April 28. “As I tell the team every year, each player, each coach, we all have to re-establish and prove ourselves every year. That’s what this league is. That’s for all of us — ’23 is ’23. We’ll see how ’23 goes.”
Cunningham, the latest addition to the Patriots quarterback room, overlapped with Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson at Louisville in 2017. A redshirt freshman during Jackson’s senior season, Cunningham went on to break Jackson’s record of the most touchdowns, 119, in Louisville history in 2022. Jackson congratulated Cunningham via social media after the achievement.
“Congratulations brother. I already knew you was gonna do it, I can’t wait to see you do it,” Jackson said in the video. “Tighten down, man, Card Nation!”
Malik Cunningham Struggled Late in Louisville Career
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Cunningham amassed 9,660 yards passing for 70 touchdowns versus 29 interceptions plus 3,179 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns in his five-year career. Despite his big numbers, he didn’t play as well in his senior year amid career lows in yards passing and touchdowns for seasons where he started 10 or more games. He also never led the Cardinals to more than seven wins in a season, and that happened once in 2019.
Because of Cunningham’s struggles in 2022, his draft stock fell as he ultimately became an undrafted free agent. Though he didn’t land securely on teams’ draft boards, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked him as the No. 15 quarterback in the draft class and a priority free agent.
“Cunningham is an instinctive athlete with natural run skill, but he is undersized and his inconsistent throwing mechanics affect his accuracy,” Brugler wrote. “An NFL team would be wise to figure out how to utilize his playmaking talent.”
Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will see if they can do that with Cunningham.
Bill O’Brien Likes What He Sees With Patriots Quarterbacks
O’Brien, who also talked about the Patriots quarterbacks on April 28, spoke well of Jones and Zappe — both of whom started multiple games in 2022. McSorley, who notably backed up Jackson in Baltimore for two seasons, just signed with the team on April 13.
“The quarterback room has been really good,” O’Brien told reporters. “Mac Jones has worked really, really hard this offseason. Been here every day. We just started working [in the voluntary offseason program] two weeks [ago] and that’s been good. A lot of good meetings. A lot of good give-and-take.
“Bailey Zappe, same thing. Really working very hard. Good guys that care about the team, care about winning, and doing what’s best for the team, which has always been the mantra. It’s been fun to work with them.”