CLICK ON THE PHOTO BELOW OF BERNIE KOSAR FOR A SNEAK PEEK AT “CAUGHT IN THE DRAFT: 1985”
By Greg Frith, Producer
As the decade of the 80s approached the halfway point, the NFL was faced with new developments that contributed to Bernie Kosar ending up the quarterback of his hometown Cleveland Browns. First, the league was becoming more of a passing league. Don Coryell’s air attack in San Diego and Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense were being copied, and in 1984, Miami’s Dan Marino became the first quarterback to top 5,000 yards passing in a season. Every team sought a franchise quarterback. Second, players were using their newfound leverage to put themselves where they wanted to be. Free agency was still a pipe dream, but the USFL had given the players a bargaining chip they had not had since the mid 70s. Two years prior, John Elway leveraged a potential baseball career into a situation he preferred. In 1985, Kosar used a loophole to dictate the team he would play for.
Players were not permitted to leave college early in 1985, unless they graduated early. Kosar was not just one of the brightest quarterback prospects in the nation, he had proven bright in the classroom. He was on pace to graduate a year early, which would allow him to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft. Teams in need of a quarterback took aim at Kosar. Bruce Smith had signed with the Bills months before they would officially select him #1 overall in the draft, which allowed the quarterback hungry teams to approach the Houston Oilers about their #2 overall pick. Houston had just signed Warren Moon to a record contract, and had no need for Kosar. The Cleveland Browns and GM Ernie Accorsi attempted to work a trade with Oilers GM Ladd Herzeg, but every time the Browns agreed to Houston’s demands, the demands changed. It became clear to Accorsi that his division rivals had no intention of making a deal that could come back to haunt them. It was then that Accorsi and the Browns learned of a loophole that would allow Kosar to bypass the NFL Draft and make himself eligible for the Supplemental Draft in July. Because of his unique situation, if Kosar held back his paper work required by the league to make himself eligible for the draft, he could skip the regular draft and orchestrate his way to his childhood team. With this information in hand, Accorsi approached Buffalo – owners of the first pick in the Supplemental Draft – about a trade. The Bills gave up the pick for four picks from Cleveland. In the meantime, Houston had struck a deal with Minnesota for the second pick in the NFL Draft, a trade the Vikings made under the impression they would be landing Kosar. When word got out about Kosar’s real plans, both Houston and Minnesota took their anger, along with threats of a lawsuit, to Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Much to the dismay of Minnesota and Houston, Rozelle ruled that neither Cleveland nor Kosar was in violation of breaking any rules. Always the diplomat, Rozelle put the decision in the hands of Kosar, but allowed the Vikings a week to “recruit” him. Ultimately, the allure of playing half his games indoors for his former coordinator at the University of Miami, Marc Trestman – who was on the Vikings staff at the time – was not enough to sway Kosar. He fulfilled his childhood dream of playing for his hometown team when the Browns selected Kosar with the first and only pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft.
See “Caught in the Draft: 1985 – Schemes and Dreams” Thursday April 16th at 9 p.m. ET, only on NFL NETWORK.
The Caught in the Draft series is produced by David Plaut & Neil Zender
The episode “Schemes and Dreams” was produced by Greg Frith & James Weiner.