Malik Cunningham

Patriots Waive QB Will Grier

The Patriots’ backup QB carousel continues. The team is waiving quarterback Will Grier, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The move clears a spot for p-squad offensive lineman Conor McDermott to join the 53-man roster, per Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald.

[RELATED: Patriots Undecided On Week 12 QB Starter]

While Mac Jones has started every game for the Patriots this season, the depth chart behind him has seen plenty of reshuffling. Projected backup (and potential QB1 fill-in) Bailey Zappe was bounced from the roster after the preseason, only to later rejoin the active roster via the practice squad. Former third-round pick Matt Corral was also briefly on the team before eventually earning his walking papers.

The Patriots then pivoted to Grier as a potential backup option. Grier most recently served as one of Dak Prescott‘s backups in Dallas, but following the Cowboys’ acquisition of Trey Lance, the 2019 third-round pick was cut loose. After a brief stint on the Bengals practice squad, Grier was added to New England’s 53-man roster back in late September.

Grier hasn’t seen the field at all this season, and even with the Patriots’ uncertain QB situation, it was unlikely he was going to earn a promotion from his QB3 role. Coach Bill Belichick admitted as much during a recent appearance on Patriots All-Access.

“When you’re new and haven’t been here in training camp and had the full background of OTAs and a chance to run our core plays, it’s a lot to catch up on,” Belichick said. “Will has done a good job of it. There’s no issues with him. It’s just there’s only so many snaps out there.”

With Grier no longer on the roster, Malik Cunningham could be in line for snaps if the Patriots pivot from both Jones and Zappe. The UDFA out of Louisville has spent much of the season working with the Patriots receivers, although the organization hasn’t completely shut the door on his QB abilities. For what it’s worth, the rookie did tell Kyed that he’s not part of the team’s plans at quarterback tomorrow against the Giants.

So, as expected, that leaves Jones and Zappe as the candidates to start Week 12. The Patriots still haven’t announced who will start the game, but with Jones having reportedly lost “at least 80 percent of the Patriots’ locker room,” there seems to be some real momentum towards Zappe earning his first start of the season. The 2022 fourth-round pick showed some flashes as a rookie, but the Patriots have been reluctant to turn to the second-year pro in 2023.

That lack of faith could be because of Zappe’s underwhelming performances at practice. As Kyed writes, the second-year pro has struggled under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and Jones has been the superior QB every step of the way. While that’s obviously not saying a whole lot, the Patriots may be struggling to justify a Zappe promotion.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 10/25/23

Today’s practice squad transactions:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

  • Signed: LB Donavan Mutin

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles

Tennessee Titans

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/24/23

Here are Tuesday’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

  • Promoted: TE Blake Whiteheart

Atlanta Falcons

Houston Texans

New England Patriots

New York Giants

New York Jets

Roster gymnastics at quarterback continues for the Patriots, who will again take the chance no one will claim Cunningham. New England waived the rookie UDFA in August and stashed him on its practice squad, and’s Mike Reiss notes that is likely to happen again — provided no team claims him. The Pats promoted the Louisville product earlier this month, but after playing him in Week 6, they sat him in Week 7. Although the Patriots designated Flowers for return from IR on Oct. 4, they will cut ties with their former starter rather than use a roster spot on his activation by Wednesday.

The Giants have now added two running backs this week, with Jackson following Jashaun Corbin‘s return from the Panthers’ practice squad. Injuries to Gray and Gary Brightwell led to these moves. Gray sustained a calf injury in Week 7, leading the Giants to insert veteran Sterling Shepard as their punt returner. Shepard muffed a punt that led to the Commanders’ only score. Peart had operated as a backup tackle. He joins Andrew Thomas‘ initial replacement, Joshua Ezeudu, on IR. Guard Shane Lemieux is also on IR.

The Texans initially released Littleton due to roster-reorganizing purposes, per KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson, but the offseason pickup remains in the team’s plans. Houston cut Littleton to make room for waiver claim Myjai Sanders, but after waiving cornerback D’Angelo Ross on Monday, the team is re-signing the veteran linebacker. Littleton, 30, played sparingly in the Texans’ six games this season, logging only 17 defensive snaps.

QB Notes: Watson, Bears, Jones, Chiefs, Pats

Missing another Browns practice, Deshaun Watson provided details on his shoulder injury Wednesday. The seventh-year passer said he suffered a micro tear in his right rotator cuff, which the Akron Beacon Journal’s Chris Easterling notes amounts to a strained shoulder. Previously called a bruise, Watson’s injury will threaten to keep him sidelined for a third game. Watson’s hiatus did not begin until the Browns ruled him out hours before their Week 4 game. Watson said an MRI conducted the night before revealed he was battling more than a bruise.

Kevin Stefanski confirmed the obvious, after a 49ers upset, that P.J. Walker will remain the team’s backup. Watson added that he has been told this micro tear will not develop into a bigger injury that requires season-ending surgery, but the well-paid QB is resting to ensure he can throw without restrictions. Although Watson himself expressed hesitancy regarding a return Sunday,’s Jeremy Fowler notes the Browns are optimistic their top QB will be back. Watson has been cleared to play for weeks, but he and the team are believed to be on the same page regarding his return plan.

Here is the latest from the quarterback landscape:

  • Bouncing on and off the Bears‘ 53-man roster, Nathan Peterman is on the team at the moment. His yo-yoing between the practice squad and the active will pause for the time being, with Justin Fields doubtful for Week 7 with a dislocated thumb. Peterman, however, will serve as the backup to rookie UDFA Tyson Bagent, Matt Eberflus confirmed (via The Athletic’s Adam Jahns). Hailing from Division II Shepherd, Bagent replaced Fields in Week 6. Fields’ absence may last longer than one week, via’s Albert Breer, though it is still too early to tell here. Eberflus confirmed the team is still considering a surgery, which would redefine the team’s season.
  • It does not look like Daniel Jones will be able to go in Week 7. The fifth-year Giants quarterback continues to feel neck and left shoulder soreness and has not been cleared for full work. Though, Jones has been cleared to throw, Brian Daboll said. He just has not been cleared for contact, per the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz. Jones missed the final six games of the 2021 season because of a neck injury, one that led Daboll to New York to replace Joe Judge. Daboll said Jones’ season is not in jeopardy. Tyrod Taylor remains in place as the Giants’ backup, with Daboll reminding there is no competition between he and Jones for the starting role.
  • Stashed on the Patriots‘ practice squad until mid-October, Malik Cunningham played six offensive snaps against the Raiders in his NFL debut. The rookie UDFA may be in line for a bigger role soon. The Patriots’ coaches are discussing ways to increase the quarterback/receiver option’s usage, ESPN’s Dan Graziano writes. The Patriots have struggled in just about every facet offensively, sinking to 1-5. Cunningham flashed in the preseason. With Mac Jones and his wide receivers not making notable impacts, Cunningham would seemingly be worth a try as a gadget player.
  • The Chiefs updated Patrick Mahomescontract in September, providing a necessary adjustment after the QB market had passed the two-time MVP since his 10-year, $450MM extension came to pass in July 2020. Mahomes remains the only NFLer signed into the 2030s, and Fowler adds some agents have wondered if the Chiefs are using their superstar quarterback’s lengthy deal as a precedent in other players’ negotiations. The Chiefs engaged in extensive Chris Jones negotiations this offseason, failing to agree on an extension. Though, money was believed to be a bigger factor than contract length. Kansas City, however, did see contract length factor into its talks with Orlando Brown Jr. last summer. The Pro Bowl left tackle balked at a six-year offer worth $139MM, citing dissatisfaction with the guarantee. Rather than what would have been a seven-year commitment to the Chiefs, Brown hit free agency and signed a four-year, $64MM Bengals deal this offseason.

Patriots QB Mac Jones On Short Leash

OCTOBER 15: Ian Rapoport of confirms that Jones is indeed on a short leash, and that if he should struggle in the first few series of today’s game against the Raiders, Belichick could pull the plug and insert another quarterback.

Who that quarterback would be, however, is unclear. Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal recently told 98.5 The Sports Hub (as relayed by Karen Guregian of MassLive Sports) that Grier would likely be the next man up if Jones is benched. While Rapoport does not go that far, he does say that Grier and Zappe split reps in practice this week and that, despite Grier’s current status as QB3, the former third-round pick of the Panthers could be the one to get the nod.

It is also worth noting, as Mike Reiss of writes, that Cunningham received increased quarterback reps in practice this week after spending the majority of his pro career to date working on his transition to wideout. That surely does not mean that he would be called upon to replace Jones, but O’Brien believes Cunningham — who was just signed to the active roster — is one of the Pats’ most improved p-squad players. Rapoport adds that the club does have a package installed for the versatile weapon.

OCTOBER 12: Mac Jones and the Patriots offense has struggled mightily this season, especially over the past two weeks. The third-year quarterback has tossed four interceptions, lost a pair of fumbles, and earned two benchings in those two contests, with the offense failing to find the end zone in either of those two losses.

Many have started to question if Jones will continue as the QB1 for the Patriots. While it doesn’t sound like the leash is very long, the Patriots coaching staff made it clear this week that the former first-round pick will be under center this weekend against the Raiders. Coach Bill Belichick told reporters that the team won’t be “making any changes” (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport), while offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said he expects Jones in the lineup on Sunday.

“It’s not about one guy,” O’Brien said when asked about Jones’ struggles (via ESPN’s Mike Reiss). “He’d be the first to tell you that there’s things that he has to do better, whether it’s obviously take care of the ball, maybe read the route better, or get us into a better play. But it’s a collective effort.”

While Jones is expected to stay in the starting lineup, it sounds like the team is prepared to make a change if needed. Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets that this will be an important week of practice for the starter, and the Patriots will continue to “evaluate every position on the roster.” Following New England’s Week 5 loss to the Saints, Belichick acknowledged that the team was “starting over,” an indication that everyone’s spot on the depth chart would be reconsidered.

Part of the reason the Patriots haven’t already pivoted away from Jones is because of their lack of faith in the organization’s other QBs. As Andrew Callahan and Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald write, 2022 fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe has struggled during his second season in the NFL. A source told the Herald that Zappe had a “rough transition to the new offense” under O’Brien, and that ultimately led to the team cutting the quarterback at the end of the preseason.

The other 31 teams passed on Zappe, and he ultimately landed back on the Patriots’ active roster (following a quick stop on the practice squad). The team has since shuffled through multiple options at QB3. Will Grier is the current third option at the position, but even Belichick recently noted how difficult it is for players to climb the depth chart during the season. While rookie Malik Cunningham intrigued during the preseason, the Patriots seem committed to the player’s transition to wide receiver. The lack of alternative options explains why Jones will continue as the starter.

Following a successful rookie season, it’s surprising that the Alabama has taken such a significant step back over the past year-plus. According to the Herald duo, much of the blame has been placed on the organization, as Jones has shuffled through three offensive coordinators, an inconsistent and injury-plagued offensive line, and an underwhelming receivers corps.

However, sources also noted that Jones hasn’t done anything to help his case. The quarterback’s tape is “littered with inexcusable errors,” and while the lack of protection and weapons hasn’t helped, Jones is still making fundamental mistakes. In fact, according to the Herald, some in the organization recognized that Jones wasn’t the guy following the 2022 campaign, but the Patriots hoped the QB wouldn’t be bad enough to sabotage their chances.

“We know Mac isn’t going to win for us. He needs to be comfortable,” a team source told the Herald this summer. “But we think we can win with him. We’ll see.”

The team hasn’t done much winning this season, with their lone victory coming against the Jets. Jones will get another chance at redemption this weekend, but it’s uncertain how much longer he’ll stick atop the depth chart if the offense continues to struggle.

Patriots Place Matt Judon On IR, Activate Tyquan Thornton, Sign Malik Cunningham To Active Roster

The Patriots opted for a busy weekend in the personnel office with today’s transactions. They started by activating wide receiver Tyquan Thornton from injured reserve. Unfortunately, this was followed up by the team finally deciding to place star pass rusher Matt Judon on IR, along with recently acquired tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. With a new spare roster spot, New England signed practice squad quarterback Malik Cunningham to the active roster. Finally, the Patriots announced their standard gameday practice squad elevations would be defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms and wide receiver Jalen Reagor.

Let’s start with Thornton. One of the couple of moves here aimed at providing a spark on the offensive side of the ball, bringing back Thornton was a necessity. As JuJu Smith-Schuster and Demario Douglas deal with injuries, Thornton will come in as a reinforcement to earn targets alongside DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Kayshon Boutte. Thornton didn’t quite live up to the high expectations of his draft stock last year as a rookie, but he’s one of the few returning receivers that quarterback Mac Jones worked with last year. He’ll hope to redeem himself a bit in Year 2 with the Patriots.

After multiple reports that he would be out indefinitely, Judon has finally been placed on IR. Based on the team slow-playing that transaction, it was already doubtful that Judon would make a return this season. Now, the earliest he could return from IR would be in Week 10. He’s joined on IR by Wheatley Jr., who was acquired in the trade that sent running back Pierre Strong to Cleveland.

The addition of Cunningham is an interesting move. He has the potential to provide a spark on offense in two ways. New England has worked him out plenty at wide receiver since signing him as an undrafted free agent, but Cunningham surpassed a lot of Lamar Jackson‘s passing marks as a quarterback at Louisville, ranking fourth all-time for passing yards and fifth all-time for passing touchdowns. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Cunningham’s return to the active roster will result in a three-year contract.

This will be Pharm’s third game being called up from the practice squad. He’s gotten a few snaps rotating in on the defensive line in the team’s last two blowout losses. Reagor was called up last week but didn’t actually see the field.

Wednesday NFL Transactions: AFC East

Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These BillsDolphinsJets and Patriots moves are noted below.

Buffalo Bills




Signed to practice squad:

Placed on IR:

Miami Dolphins




Signed to practice squad:

New England Patriots



Signed to practice squad:

New York Jets




Signed to practice squad:

Placed on IR:

Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham To Join Pats’ Practice Squad

AUGUST 30: The Patriots will retain Zappe, per’s Adam Schefter, who reports the second-year passer will be part of New England’s practice squad. Ditto Cunningham, who will make this a rare two-quarterback P-squad, Schefter adds. Though, Cunningham could certainly be used in myriad capacities. While the Pats are still on the hunt for a veteran option, they will attempt to continue developing the former record-setting Western Kentucky QB.

AUGUST 29: For the second straight day, the Patriots have parted with a depth quarterback. Bailey Zappe has been waived, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The same is true of rookie UDFA Malik Cunningham, notes colleague Tom Pelissero.

These moves certainly constitute more of a surprise than New England’s decision to cut Trace McSorley yesterday. The latter was in line to sit no higher than third on the QB depth chart, and the Patriots – like many other teams around the league – appeared set to carry only two passers on their active roster. They will do so, but for at least the time being it remains to be seen who their backup will be come Week 1.

With McSorley, Zappe and Cunningham all off the roster, New England’s QB room currently begins and ends with Mac Jones. The latter is in place as the undisputed starter – after head coach Bill Belichick notably declined to confirm that over the course of an offseason in which tension between the two was widely publicized. Any further moves at the position will now be worth watching closely.

Jones regressed in 2022 after New England entrusted Matt Patricia and Joe Judge with leading the team’s offense. That pair has been replaced by Bill O’Brien, whose return to the organization has led to expectations for improvement from Jones individually and the passing game as a whole. Zappe would have been expected to remain a part of that process, though that could still be the case if he goes unclaimed and resorts to the practice squad.

The 2022 fourth-rounder made four appearances (and a pair of starts) during his rookie campaign, drawing praise for his performances and posting a 2-0 record. A controversy briefly appeared to exist between Zappe and Jones, a 2021 first-rounder. The latter finished out the campaign, though, and he will carry on in the starter’s role to begin an important campaign which will go a long way in determining his future in the organization.

Cunningham played quarterback at Louisville, producing sizeable numbers in the run game in particular. He went undrafted, but secured a notable guarantee from the Patriots to head to New England as a developmental prospect. The 24-year-old spent time as a receiver in training camp, and his success in the summer seemed to assure him of a roster spot in some capacity. The decision to move on from McSorley pointed toward Cunningham having a better chance at the QB3 spot, but that is now in question.

The Patriots will likely be aiming to sneak Zappe through waivers, but such a strategy with a recent draftee carries a notable degree of risk. An outside addition could be coming as well – one would become necessary if both Zappe and Cunningham were to be claimed – so New England will remain a team to watch at quarterback position. On that point, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated notes that the Patriots hope to retain Zappe, while Colt McCoy (who was surprisingly released by the Cardinals yesterday) is a veteran on their radar.

Patriots Cut QB Trace McSorley

The Patriots have cut quarterback Trace McSorley, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports. The former Ravens draftee signed with New England in April to compete for a third-string job behind starter Mac Jones and 2022 fourth-rounder Bailey Zappe.

McSorley threw just four passes in this year’s preseason and completed only one of them. It was clear that he did not have much of a future in Foxborough, so the most intriguing aspect of his release is that it increases the likelihood that UDFA rookie Malik Cunningham will make the roster.

Like 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, Cunningham is a Louisville product. And like Jackson, Cunningham is a dangerous dual-threat athlete, having thrown for 70 TDs against 29 picks in his collegiate career to go along with 3,182 rushing yards (on a 5.1 yards-per-carry average) and a whopping 50 rushing TDs. He is not the passing prospect that Jackson was, however, and there were plenty of concerns about Jackson’s acumen as a passer when he entered the league.

In light of that, Cunningham has taken the bulk of his reps as a receiver and special teamer in camp. He did see a bit of action as a quarterback in the preseason, completing three of six attempts for 19 yards. As a receiver, he caught just one of nine targets, but he had six carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. He is raw in most aspects of the game, but his athleticism is highly appealing, and it may be hard to sneak him through waivers and onto the practice squad. Even if the Pats were successful in that regard, another club could poach him at any time.

Since Zappe appears capable of handling the QB2 role, it would make sense for New England to dedicate a roster spot that might otherwise be used on a more traditional third-string passer on an intriguing player with unique upside. But as Jeff Howe of The Athletic cautions, the team has not made a decision on Cunningham despite McSorley’s departure.

“Malik is a really interesting player,” head coach Bill Belichick recently said (h/t Khari Thompson of “The kid never played receiver before or returned kicks and he’s done both, he’s returned kickoffs and played receiver. As far as playing quarterback, we’ll see how it goes. He’s certainly got some things on his resume, and so do other players so we’ll see how it all plays out.”

AFC Notes: Raiders, Pats, Jets, Bengals

As we inch closer to the start of the regular season, the Raiders‘ eventual 53-man roster is starting to come into focus. Two players in particular appear to be securing their positions for the team’s lineup come Week 1, according to Tashan Reed of The Athletic.

Wide receiver DeAndre Carter has definitely taken advantage of his opportunities throughout camp this preseason. In the team’s second preseason game, Carter started in the slot in place of Hunter Renfrow, who sat out for the game. He didn’t put up notable stats from the position, but he really shined in a special teams role. He had a strong opening kick return and was inches away from a punt return for a touchdown, as well. The coaches’ faith in him to start in place of Renfrow combined with his return ability has virtually cemented his spot on the roster, according to Reed.

Another player on the rise is veteran guard Greg Van Roten, who seems to have surpassed Alex Bars for the starting job at right guard. Van Roten started the team’s most recent preseason game at right guard for a single series before being replaced by Bars, signifying the changing of the guard, pun not intended. Bars, who started most of last season for the team at right guard, may be in danger of failing to make the 53-man roster if he keeps sliding down the depth chart.

Here are a few more roster rumors from around the league as the preseason begins its close:

  • The Patriots have struggled as of late with drafting wide receivers. They’re looking to buck that trend this season. In a room that was originally looking weak when the team missed out on free agent De’Andre Hopkins, New England is newly flushed with possibilities. The team lacks elite top end talent, but behind JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker, the Patriots have a surprising number of options. Kendrick Bourne has seemingly secured a role as the team’s third wideout with a great camp, according to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe, and behind Bourne, rookie sixth-round picks Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte have made strong cases for roster spots themselves with impressive camps. Even undrafted rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham has reportedly shown enough versatility and promise on offense and special teams to make a case for a roster spot.
  • With the recent acquisition of free agent Dalvin Cook, the Jets top-two running backs are clear as day, but in the process, the extra body has made things a bit crowded in the position room. Brian Costello of the New York Post believes that rookie fifth-round pick Israel Abanikanda is likely safe, leading to a battle for the likely last roster spot between Michael Carter and Zonovan Knight. Seemingly, Carter is safe. He’s got more starting experience on the team than Knight and didn’t suit up for the Jets’ most recent preseason game, a likely indication that the coaches have seen what they need to see. Knight played last week and fumbled. He’s had good moments throughout training camp, but his future may lie on the practice squad this season.
  • The Bengals have a clear TE1 and a likely TE2 coming into the end of the preseason in Irv Smith Jr. and Drew Sample, but there’s a chance that TE3 isn’t on the roster, according to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. Last season’s TE3 Mitchell Wilcox has a decent shot at a roster spot, as does the undersized Tanner Hudson, who has impressed with some nice hands throughout camp. Devin Asiasi, Nick Bowers, and Christian Trahan remain as options, as well, but don’t have the strongest chances at a roster spot. Dehner predicts that Cincinnati may take to the open market after cut day, aiming to pull in any of several experienced tight ends that may find themselves on the roster bubble.