As Malik Willis kept waiting to hear his name called in the 2022 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves intrigued by the possibility of selecting the Liberty quarterback.
Per The Athletic's Jeff Howe, Willis' agent, David Mulugheta, presented a scenario to his client on Day 2 of the draft that a team like the Cowboys would have interest to "groom him as a long-term replacement or even a future trade chip" if he was still on the board when they made their third-round pick at No. 88 overall.
Willis wound up being selected by the Tennessee Titans two picks before the Cowboys went on the clock.
The biggest story of the draft was the lack of activity for the quarterbacks until midway through the third round.
Kenny Pickett, selected 20th by the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the only signal-caller taken in the first two rounds. This was the first time since 2000 that only one quarterback was drafted in the first two rounds.
The Atlanta Falcons made Desmond Ridder the second quarterback off the board at No. 74. Willis was the third when the Titans ended his wait.
While there were a lot of questions about Willis' skill set translating to the NFL leading up to the draft, most analysts projected him to be a first-round pick because of his raw talent.
Per NFL Mock Draft Database, the consensus was Willis would be the Steelers' choice at No. 20.
"Willis has the biggest arm in the class and can do damage with his legs when he gets out of the pocket," ESPN's Todd McShay wrote in his final mock. "Pittsburgh brought in Mitch Trubisky on a one-year deal, which just means it won't have to immediately force Willis onto the field. There's a lot of upside here."
Willis could end up being a replacement for Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee after this season. Tannehill is signed through next season, but his dead-cap figure is only $18.8 million in 2023.
The Titans are in a bind with the salary cap, which could also explain their decision to trade A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. They already have $219.2 million in salary commitments for the 2023 season.
If the Titans want to start reshaping their roster and believe they have maxed out what Tannehill can do, developing Willis this season to potentially take over next year would certainly make sense.
Willis would have been a viable backup option in Dallas. He could also be used in certain packages because of his speed and ability to run the ball. Cooper Rush is currently the No. 2 quarterback on Dallas' roster.
The Cowboys aren't a team that needs a quarterback, though. Dak Prescott is only 28 years old, had arguably his best season in 2021 and has three years remaining on his current deal. After going 12-5 last season, their sights are on making a Super Bowl run.