Andrew Callahan: Let Malik Cunningham compete for the Patriots' starting QB job

Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald on

Published in Football

Bill Belichick allowed his assistants roughly 36 hours of vacation over the bye week.

Maybe a little more time could have helped clear their heads.

Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien indicated Monday that Belichick has yet to decide on a starting quarterback. You’ll remember Belichick pulled Mac Jones near the end of the Patriots’ last loss, a 10-6 international embarrassment that Jones’ replacement, Bailey Zappe, capped with a mind-numbing interception. O’Brien hinted this week’s starter may not be named until the staff sees who performs best in practice. But, be honest: how much do you care?

What more tired topic is there than the Patriots’ quarterback situation, a morass of bad passers handcuffed to one of the NFL’s least talented rosters?

Jones has been benched three times. Zappe is the least accurate quarterback in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus. Third-stringer Will Grier might have less game than the 40-year-old virgin, considering the Panthers, Cowboys, Bengals and now Patriots haven’t handed him a regular-season snap since 2019. And then there’s Malik Cunningham, an undrafted rookie who’s also dabbled at receiver and on special teams.

Staging a competition in practice makes sense. O’Brien insinuated there are enough reps in practice for two quarterbacks to complete for the job. Let’s make this easy for him.


Jones and Zappe are the Pats’ top options, so go ahead and pick one. I’ll take another: Cunningham.

If Cunningham was good enough to serve as the Patriots’ No. 2 backup in a mid-October loss at Las Vegas, he’s good enough to earn consideration now. He’s a dual-threat who can buy time behind a porous offensive line and afford his receivers another second or two to uncover, something none of the other quarterbacks can offer.

New England Patriots quarterback Malik Cunningham scrambles out of the pocket during the second half of an Aug. 10 preseason game against the Houston Texans. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper)Cunningham is widely heralded as a smart player, and has been since the summer. With Jones, the Patriots have already stripped their passing attack down to Day 1 concepts: screens, slants, shallow crosses, curls and deep shots almost strictly off play-actions. Cunningham can handle that.

“Malik’s done a really good job. … Whether that leads to playing time and all those things again, that’ll be up to Bill (Belichick),” O’Brien said. “I think assistant coaches make recommendations and head coaches make decisions. And so that’ll be up to Bill. But (Cunningham)’s made a lot of improvements.”


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