Bill Belichick sure likes to play mind games. No one quite like him. Galaxy-brained moves like releasing Bailey Zappe before this season, only to sign him back to the practice squad. Mind you, Zappe started two games last season. Then you have Mac Jones, who’s done nothing but regress since a stellar rookie campaign in 2021.
Saying all that to say, this latest move to hit the Pats’ transaction wire regarding Malik Cunningham suggests the perpetually cunning Belichick is at it again with another harebrained scheme:
Rather than an elevation, Malik Cunningham is being signed to the 53-man roster with a three-year deal, source said. https://t.co/4laeepzref
Not to condescend too much or disrespect Billy B, arguably the greatest football coach in history. That said, it’s not like The Hoodie has been much more than a pseudo-diplomatic curmudgeon who begrudgingly takes the podium any time he has to face the media.
Too bad we don’t have more time for the beat reporters to pepper Belichick with questions about all this. That’s a pretty late tactical move to bump Cunningham up to the active roster — never mind signing him to a freaking three-year contract! What??
I can just see Emperor Belichick in the palatial throne room of whatever New England mansion he dwells in, thinking about how the plebs of the football world will interpret this latest maneuver.
The most burning questions are as follows. I will do my best to provide potential answers in order:
1. If Mac Jones struggles again in Sunday’s game against the Raiders, will he get a quick hook in favor of Cunningham?
2. Will Cunningham line up at quarterback, wide receiver, or a little bit of both in Las Vegas?
Regarding the former inquiry, I have doubts that Belichick will bench Mac. He gave the former first-round pick a pretty long leash en route to losing the past two games by a combined score of 72-3. It’s not like Zappe did much better in spot relief duty. My sense is that Michael McCorkle will be the guy as long as he’s healthy enough to be on the field.
That brings me to the second big question. Honestly, I think Cunningham will be a change-up/gadget/gimmicky guy with a small package of five-ish plays when he aligns at QB. They may motion him out to throw quick/tunnel screens to diversify the passing game a little bit, or to give it any sort of life whatsoever.
If nothing else, Cunningham is slippery in the open field and is among the more explosive offensive players the Pats have at the moment.
Wow. The #Patriots are signing Malik Cunningham to their active roster, according to @RapSheet.
Given how much of a stickler Belichick is for the finer details of every position, I have my doubts that Cunningham will have cross-trained well enough to this point to contribute in any significant way as a wide receiver. Then again, that position is where Belichick has failed time and again to evaluate with any degree of competence. It’s a notorious blind spot for him.
Cunningham wouldn’t have much competition in terms of raw ability against his fellow New England pass-catchers. I just doubt he’s inking a three-year contract because he suddenly valmorphanized into a WR1 in practice. He must be showing something as a quarterback to merit a brand-new deal of such a length.
That or the undrafted Cunningham is essentially the next Julian Edelman, who played QB at Kent State, got drafted in the seventh round, and ultimately became a go-to target for Tom Brady on three Super Bowl-winning Pats teams.
Over the course of almost four years as Louisville’s starting quarterback, Cunningham racked up 9,664 passing yards (8.7 YPA) with 70 TDs and only 29 picks. He ran for over 3,000 yards in five total seasons for the Cardinals and scored fifty TDs. One-hundred and twenty touchdowns? That seems good!
Since Cunningham is listed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, I’m not sure he’s built to last as a long-term QB in the NFL, especially if he takes a beating as a frequent ball-carrier.
Time will tell — I suspect sooner rather than later — whether Cunningham’s contract and promotion mean much of anything. Maybe it does. Maybe it’s simply Belichick messing with us because he doesn’t know what else to do amid the possible cataclysmic end to his Patriots tenure.