Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham back to Patriots on practice squad

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Second-year quarterback Bailey Zappe and undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Malik Cunningham, both of whom were waived by the New England Patriots on Tuesday in moves that left starter Mac Jones as the only quarterback on the roster, re-signed with the team's practice squad.

Coach Bill Belichick took an unconventional approach of exposing both quarterbacks to waivers, with the hope they would ultimately return on the practice squad.

At the same time, Belichick has regularly said that anytime the team exposes a player to waivers it is prepared to lose him, so the decision reflects the view of the coaching staff of a sizable gap between Jones and the next player on the depth chart.

The Patriots could still consider the possibility of adding another quarterback, per a source, but now have flexibility to elevate Zappe as a No. 2 option on game day early in the season as they sort through their options.

On Tuesday, before the Patriots trimmed their roster to 53 players, Belichick noted that the team would be tweaking its roster over a period of days.

"I would caution you against thinking things are over when they're not necessarily over on a lot of levels," he said. "Some players that we release will come back and play for us, be on the practice squad. We don't know exactly what they'll be, but we have a general idea."

Zappe had practice-squad interest from multiple other teams, but elected to stay in New England, per a source.

Meanwhile, Cunningham's dual-threat skills as a passer and runner provide a contrast to Jones and Zappe, and figure to be tapped in helping prepare for quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener Sept. 10.

Cunningham starred at quarterback in college at Louisville and has been utilized as a change-of-pace option in practices through training camp, in addition to working at receiver and on special teams.

In other news, Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton is starting the year on injured reserve, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. Thornton, who suffered a shoulder injury during training camp, can return after four games.

This marks the second year in a row that the 2022 second-round pick will open the regular season on injured reserve, and his absence potentially opens up an opportunity for rookies Demario "Pop" Douglas and Kayshon Boutte to contribute behind starters DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kendrick Bourne.