The New England Patriots spent a bundle, relatively speaking, on undrafted quarterback Malik Cunningham, but that might not translate to playing under center.
Cunningham informed NFL teams before that draft that he will play elsewhere on the field in order to play according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero. That’s realistic for the athletic former Louisville star, who broke Lamar Jackson‘s touchdown record with the Cardinals.
The Patriots certainly invested in Cunningham with a $200,000 guaranteed and a $30,000 signing bonus. That’s the most ever guaranteed for a Patriots undrafted free agent according to Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports.
New England head coach Bill Belichick has plenty of depth at quarterback with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe plus the addition of Trace McSorley in free agency. All three have starting experience in the NFL, and the Patriots signed McSorely for his dual-threat ability, which could help the team in practice to prepare against other dual-threat quarterbacks.
At 5-foot-11 and 192-pounds, Cunningham doesn’t have the traditional height for an NFL quarterback, but his athleticism makes him a viable playmaker elsewhere. Cunningham notably posted one of the best-ever 40-yard dash times, 4.53 seconds, at the NFL Combine. That put him in the 95th percentile, according to MockDraftable.
Cunningham dominated on the ground for Louisville with 3,179 yards and 50 touchdowns in five full seasons under center. That included a 1,031-yard season in 2021, but his production dipped to 560 yards in 2022.
He can catch, too. His two collegiate catches went for nine and 33 yards during his final two years. Cunningham notably started off as a wide receiver in college before he converted to quarterback, and he played safety growing up before a stellar high school career at quarterback in Montgomery, Alabama.
As a passer, Cunningham did plenty of damage with 9,660 yards and 70 touchdowns versus 29 interceptions for Louisville. He completed 62.6% of his passes and posted a 151.8 quarterback rating. Similar to rushing, Cunningham’s play in the pocket dipped in 2022 with a career low for touchdowns, eight, and his second-lowest yardage total, 1,568 yards.
Patriots Tried Converting a Quarterback Before
While the Patriots could use Cunningham elsewhere, the team hasn’t announced a decision to move Cunningham to another position. However, the Patriots did before as recently as last year with undrafted Miami quarterback D’Eriq King.
The former Hurricanes quarterback threw for 3,453 yards and 26 touchdowns in addition to 634 yards rushing and four touchdowns in two seasons. He previously lit things up with Houston amid 4,925 yards passing and 50 touchdowns plus 1,421 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground in four years.
His athleticism impressed the Patriots, but the team cut him in May 2022 after nine days with the team. King made the Carolina Panthers practice squad in November 2022, but the team released him after eight days.
D’Eriq King Took a Backup Plan, Malik Cunningham Wants to Avoid That
King now plays for the D.C. Defenders in the XFL, which will play in the championship on May 13. Cunningham similarly has an option of another pro league if the NFL doesn’t pan out. The USFL’s Birmingham Stallions drafted him with the No. 22 pick in February, but Cunningham doesn’t see the USFL as a backup plan.
“I was actually working out and then I see that … I don’t know what that was,” Cunningham told reporters at the NFL Combine in February. “I had no clue about it, I’m just as shocked as you are.”