Backups are back: Patriots sign QBs Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham to practice squad

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New England’s QB room will not be as empty as it appeared Tuesday afternoon.

A day after cutting Bailey Zappe and Malik Cunnigham, the New England Patriots brought back both backups Wednesday by signing the young QBs to the practice squad.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick chose to expose both Zappe and Cunningham to the waiver wire when the Patriots decided to release the young players Tuesday. But the unconventional move was rewarded when no team made a claim, opening the door for a Foxboro reunion.

According to NFL insider Tom Pelissero, Zappe fielded offers from seven other teams after clearing waivers but ended up choosing to stay in Foxboro.

The Patriots can begin to elevate players from the practice squad to the regular 53-man roster once players already on the full-time roster are eligible to be placed on the injured reserve with a designation to return starting at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Players can also be evaluated from the practice squad on gameday three times a season before the Patriots would need to sign them to the 53-man roster for the rest of the year.

Zappe, a 2022 fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky University, won the hearts of many Patriots fans by guiding the Patriots to a 2-1 record while quarterbacks Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer dealt with injuries. After an overtime loss against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, the 24-year-old Zappe posted a 112.5 passer rating in runaway wins over the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 5-6.

Comparisons to a former Patriots backup QB that wore #12 diminished after Zappe was ineffective in relief of Mac Jones during New England’s Week 8 showdown against the Chicago Bears. Zappe was limited to just 185 yards passing yards and threw 2 interceptions during the Patriots’s 33-14 drubbing in their home stadium. Zappe did not see game action for the rest of the 2022 season.

Zappe had struggled throughout the 2023 preseason, going 30-of-51 for 247 yards, with one touchdown in three games. Zappe, also sacked six times, has yet to look wholly comfortable as he adjusts from the play call stylings of Ex-Pats, current Eagles assistant Matt Patrica to New England’s current offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

Cunningham tied Lamar Jackson’s school record for touchdowns at Louisville but signed as a wide receiver with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent this spring. The 24-year-old was put through his paces by the Patriots this summer, taking reps under center, outside and on special teams.

Cunningham struggled as a receiver in live game action, only hauling in one reception for a loss on nine targets but shined in the Patriots preseason opener against Houston, scrambling for 34 yards and a touchdown on five rushing attempts alongside three-of-four passing.

Wide receiver Thyrick Pitts, offensive tackle Andrew Stueber and defensive back Joshua Bledsoe also re-signed to New England’s practice squad after being cut Tuesday.

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