One of the biggest surprises from the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft is who wasn’t picked, namely Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. Seen by a healthy share of experts as the top signal caller available in this year’s draft, Willis’ name had been popping up among the top 10 picks in a few mock drafts. Among even the most guarded prognosticators, many saw him as a first-rounder because of position value and team-controlled fifth-year option available on rookie contracts for the first 32 players picked.
Now, Willis falls to day two of the draft. He’ll most likely be scooped up pretty early in the second round, but his slide out of the first has a cascade of implications for both the player and teams interested in drafting him.
Salary cap savings
There’s a steep drop off in a player’s contract value between the first and second round. The first player picked in the second round, No. 33 overall, will carry a cap hit of $1.869 million, versus $2.335 million for the 32nd pick. Compare that to the first overall pick, who’ll count for almost $7.9 million against the cap on a four-year deal worth about $37 million.
It’s a hit for the player, but for the franchise drafting him, Willis will come with an incredibly team-friendly deal. That would give his pro team more flexibility with cap space, as well as some protection in case they can’t develop him into a franchise quarterback.
Fifth-year contract option
One trade off for the team that does draft Willis is that they will not have a fifth-year option on his contract. Only first-round picks have that built into their rookie contracts. That’s one advantage to picking a quarterback in the first round—an extra contract year with a team-friendly rate, compared to the market for quarterbacks at any rate. If Willis does blossom into a franchise player, his team will either have to negotiate a new deal before his rookie contract expires or hang onto him via the franchise tag.
Which team could draft Malik Willis?
That’s going to be the big question heading into day two of the draft. Right now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the first pick in the second round, No. 33. And despite the fact that they have Tom Brady, the Bucs could be a dark horse contender for Willis. They need a youngster to develop behind Touchdown Tom, and Willis could benefit from a year as an understudy. He plays a different style, so there’s that to consider. And they could also be easily swayed by a team wanting to trade up.
Going down the draft order, another team to keep your eye on is the New York Giants picking at No. 36. They declined Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, and they desperately need a new signal caller.
The Carolina Panthers were another team linked to Willis prior to the draft. In fact, a lot of mock drafts had Willis landing there at No. 6. The Seattle Seahawks have the 40th and 41st picks, so they could be a team to watch. The Atlanta Falcons are at 43, and the Detroit Lions and Washington Commanders are picking not too far after that at 46 and 47.
It could get interesting early tomorrow if teams start getting antsy about landing Willis.