Malik Cunningham didn’t hear his name called during the 2023 NFL Draft. But the former Louisville quarterback received a more lucrative contract than many players who did.
Minutes after the draft concluded Saturday evening, the New England Patriots signed Cunningham as an undrafted free agent. His UDFA deal included a $30,000 signing bonus and an eye-popping $200,000 in total guarantees, according to reports from Doug Kyed of A to Z Sports and NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero.
To most NFL players, that’s not an especially large amount of money. But it’s a heck of a lot for an undrafted rookie, most of whom receive less than $100,000 guaranteed at signing.
In fact, Cunningham’s contract featured the highest amount of guaranteed money ever for a Patriots UDFA. That doesn’t guarantee him a spot on New England’s 53-man roster, but it’s far more than expected for a player who will enter spring practice as the fourth-string QB behind Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley. It suggests the Patriots have some sort of plan for him.
Cunningham, who started 47 games at Louisville, is undersized for an NFL quarterback at just under 6 feet and 192 pounds, and he posted some uninspiring passing stats last season: 62.4% completion rate, 1,568 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games. He’s a superb athlete, though, with a 40-yard dash time that ranked in the 95th percentile among QBs and a 10-yard split that ranked in the 97th, and he was a productive rusher throughout his college career. Cunningham led all FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards in 2021 (1,031) and rushed for 32 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Pelissero reported before the draft that Cunningham told teams he was “willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and help a team win,” suggesting he’s open to a possible position change. Could we see the 24-year-old take reps at wideout once OTAs begin next month?
It’s worth noting the Patriots brought in another undersized undrafted QB with multipositional potential last year (D’Eriq King) and cut him within a matter of weeks. But Cunningham’s contract should keep him with the team at least through training camp.
Follow along with all of the Patriots’ UDFA signings in our live tracker.