FOXBORO, Mass. — We don’t know whether Malik Cunningham will pan out as an NFL player. He’s an undrafted rookie, after all, and he’s played a grand total of six official snaps in the pros.

But many of his now-former teammates seem to believe the Patriots blew an opportunity with the 25-year-old quarterback/wide receiver, who left New England’s practice squad this week to sign with the Baltimore Ravens.

That roster move triggered an avalanche of Cunningham endorsements from all corners of the Patriots locker room, both on social media and in interviews.

Offensive tackle Trent Brown fired the first shot Tuesday, telling Cunningham in an Instagram post to “go flourish where (his) talent is respected.” That message insinuated, of course, that New England did not respect the Louisville product’s skill set, which head coach Bill Belichick recently called “unique.”

Story continues below advertisement

A slew of other Patriots also lamented Cunningham’s departure on social media, including defensive captains Ja’Whaun Bentley and Deatrich Wise and Pro Bowl edge rusher Matthew Judon.

“Nah nah nah bring bring bro back,” Judon wrote.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

No Matchup Found

Click here to enter a different Sportradar ID.

Three players were asked about Cunningham during Wednesday’s media availability periods at Gillette Stadium. None had a critique as forceful as Brown’s, but all three expressed dismay over Cunningham’s exit.

Story continues below advertisement

“We really saw a lot of his talent displayed for the world during the preseason game,” said Wise, referring to the impressive touchdown drive Cunningham led in his preseason NFL debut. “And then every day after that, we saw a lot of things that he was doing in practice. Every time he’d get the ball in his hand, (we saw) how dynamic he was.

“It was like, ‘Man, if he gets the opportunity to do that again, he’s going to be electrifying.’ Unfortunately, the Ravens picked him up. I know he’s going to do great. I wish him well. He’s going to have a tremendous career.”

Linebacker Mack Wilson, who played against Cunningham when they were Montgomery, Ala., high schoolers, said he had to be on point with his pursuit when Cunningham was running the scout team in practice.

“It was bittersweet,” Wilson said. “Honestly, I kind of hate that he had to go over to Baltimore. But I’m super proud of him. I know what he’s capable of.”

Story continues below advertisement

Even quarterback Bailey Zappe, who ostensibly was competing with Cunningham for playing time, said he was “upset that he’s not going to be here with us anymore.”

“But I was also excited that he was getting an opportunity somewhere else,” said Zappe, who’s expected to make his third consecutive start this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This kind of thing doesn’t typically happen. You don’t see an undrafted rookie practice squad player leave a team and then receive public tributes from half the roster, including several team leaders on the opposite side of the ball. Cunningham was unusually popular and well-respected for a player with his limited NFL résumé.

Which raises the question: If his fellow players clearly had such a high opinion of him, why did Cunningham not get more of an opportunity to contribute in New England?

Story continues below advertisement

As mentioned, he played just six regular-season snaps in a Patriots uniform, all of which came in a Week 6 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. He finished his Patriots tenure with zero rushing attempts, zero pass attempts and zero targets.

Cunningham looked primed for another chance two months later, after the team benched Mac Jones and installed Zappe as the new starter, but he did not see a single snap against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 or Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14 despite being elevated to the gameday roster for both contests.

Five days after New England’s Thursday night win in Pittsburgh, Cunningham was off to Baltimore, where he’ll link back up with former college teammate Lamar Jackson and get to play in an offense specifically designed around a mobile QB.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh called signing Cunningham “a future type of move,” saying he can contribute at wideout and on special teams while he develops behind Jackson, who signed a five-year contract extension this past offseason. Receiver — which he never played before entering the NFL — was Cunningham’s primary position with the Patriots, though his QB reps did increase in recent weeks.

Story continues below advertisement

Bill Belichick said the Patriots wanted and tried to keep Cunningham but that the Ravens “sold him on the opportunity.” New England had no power to block the move — practice squad players are free to sign with other teams at any time — but could have if Cunningham was on its 53-man roster.

The Patriots might now regret not rostering Cunningham over a bottom-of-the-roster player like running back JaMycal Hasty or defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms, especially once it became clear that Jones no longer was a viable QB option. They also could have placed running back Rhamondre Stevenson on injured reserve after his Week 13 high ankle sprain and used the spot to promote Cunningham.

Ultimately, though, the Patriots did not believe Cunningham could help them this season, even as their quarterback play and overall offensive production ranked among the NFL’s worst. If they did, he would have seen more than a half-dozen snaps over their first 13 games.

Cunningham might never amount to anything more than a promising project with Baltimore. But if he does, the Patriots will look back on this whole experiment as a major missed opportunity.

Story continues below advertisement

Featured image via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images