How Patriots could fill open spot on 53-man roster created by Malik Cunningham cut

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FOXBORO — The Patriots have been forced to make some difficult roster decisions in recent weeks with players ready to return off of reserve lists.

The Patriots have activated wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, offensive lineman Riley Reiff, safety Cody Davis and cornerback Jack Jones off of PUP and injured reserve lists since Week 5. They’ve also had to navigate difficult injury situations at wide receiver and on the offensive and defensive line.

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Their latest move was to waive quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham on Tuesday, opening up a spot on their 53-man roster. Cunningham was signed to the 53-man roster to back up starting quarterback Mac Jones and provide wide receiver depth in Week 6. The Patriots could not have used Bailey Zappe as their emergency third quarterback if Cunningham had only been temporarily elevated from the practice due to an NFL rule. The hope is to get Cunningham back on the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Patriots now have some freedom to add a 53rd player to their roster, and they have a number of in-house options.

The top candidate is wide receiver Jalen Reagor, who played a season-high 25 snaps in Sunday’s win over the Bills. Reagor, who’s impressed the team in practice, has used up all three of his practice squad elevations seven weeks into the season. If the Patriots want to put him back on the field Sunday against the Dolphins, then they would need to sign him.

“Jalen’s come in, been a really good scout team player for us,” head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “We played against a lot of top receivers, and he’s gotten a lot of good opportunities with some of the routes that those guys run to kind of be featured a little bit on some of the scout team plays. He’s earned some playing time, which has come from his practice time, practice performance.

“He’s picking up the offense, and we’ll see how it goes. But he’s got good talent, good guy to work with, glad we have him.”

If the Patriots signed Reagor to the 53-man roster, that move likely would not be made official until Saturday at 4 p.m.

There are other practice squad options to sign to the 53-man roster. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms is out of practice squad elevations after serving as depth with Daniel Ekuale on injured reserve. The Patriots elevated another defensive tackle, Trysten Hill, last week against the Bills.

Offensive tackle Conor McDermott also recently re-signed to the practice squad. The Patriots settled their offensive line last week by moving Mike Onwenu from right guard to right tackle and starting rookie Sidy Sow at right guard. But left tackle Trent Brown suffered an injury in that game, and McDermott could be viewed as better tackle depth than Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe, both of whom have been benched this season. Lowe also suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s win.

The Patriots also could use more depth at edge defender with Keion White (concussion) and Josh Uche (ankle/knee) banged up. Williams Bradley-King, a 2021 seventh-round pick by the Commanders out of Baylor, is on the practice squad. McDermott, Hill and Bradley-King could be practice squad elevations rather than 53-man roster signings, however.

The team also could sign a player from another team’s practice squad or make a trade before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

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