November 28, 2021

There Are Always Loopholes

On July 3, 1985, the Cleveland Browns completed the biggest use of a loophole in NFL history, drafting quarterback Bernie Kosar of the University of Miami in the NFL supplemental draft. For those not old enough to remember the impact this had on Browns fans, think about the trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. without social media or the internet. Kosar had won a National Championship in 1983 and led the Hurricanes to another bowl game in 1984. Although he had two years remaining of college eligibility, he was on pace to graduate with a double major in finance and economics during the summer of 1985. At the time the NFL Draft was only for players who were seniors and those who had already graduated. But Kosar felt it was time for him to move on to the next level, the NFL. However, his real desire was to play for his hometown team, the Cleveland Browns.

As he explained on his podcast “Journey With Bernie” with cohost John Kosich, “College football had become so easy, no disrespect to anybody, but I wasn’t challenging myself. I had seen how easy it was to play top-tier dominating football, and I had kind of been there and done that already,” Kosar said. Spring practice had already begun at Miami and the depth chart had Kosar starting ahead of Vinny Testaverde. “I just didn’t think it was looking to be overly fair for the team, my brothers, my teammates and for Vinnie Testaverde. Spring practice is incredibly important to me to the growth of a football team to get ready for the fall,” he said. In 1985, if you were a college underclassman and wanted to be drafted, you had to declare for the NFL April 30 Draft by April 15. On March 14, 1985, in a news conference that was aired live in every major Florida city, Kosar declared he was forgoing his remaining college eligibility to play in the NFL and said he wanted to play for the Cleveland Browns. The strange thing about the news conference was Kosar didn’t commit himself to entering the NFL Draft.

The Buffalo Bills held the first pick in the 1985 draft but had committed to signing defensive end Bruce Smith out of Virginia Tech. They also held the rights to QB Jim Kelly of the USFL, so they were in no need of a quarterback. The Houston Oilers held the second pick, but they had signed QB Warren Moon of the CFL the previous year. The third pick was held by the Minnesota Vikings and they were very interested in drafting Kosar. Fearing Cleveland would trade with the Oilers to acquire Kosar, the Vikings traded two picks to Houston to swap spots. The Browns did attempt to work out a trade with Houston, but the Oilers had no intention of helping out a Central Division rival. So it appeared Kosar would become a member of the Vikings. Unknown to anyone, the Browns had already researched using the NFL Supplemental Draft to bypass the regular draft. On the same day, the Vikings and Oilers made their trade, the Browns quietly traded their first-round picks in 1985 (#7) and 1986, as well as their third-round pick in 1985 and a sixth-round pick in 1986 for the Bills first-round 1985 supplemental pick.

Because the Bills had the worst record in 1984, they had the first pick in both the regular NFL Draft and the supplemental draft. Whatever pick an NFL team uses in the supplemental draft, they lose that pick in the regular NFL Draft in the following year. So, if the Bills used their first pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft, they would forfeit their first-round pick in the 1986 Regular Draft. When news of the Buffalo/ Cleveland trade was announced, the Vikings and the Oilers were… well let’s just say the you know what hit the fan. To make matters worse for the Vikings, Kosar never filed the paperwork to enter the 1985 NFL Draft by the April 15 deadline. The Vikings stated because Kosar had signed with an agent, he had to enter the NFL Draft. The Oilers threatened to sue the NFL because if Kosar didn’t enter the NFL draft, their trade with Vikings was void. Kosar’s agent threatened to sue the NFL if Kosar was forced to enter the NFL Draft. If Browns’ Twitter was around when all this was happening, it would have exploded.

On April 12, then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle extended the deadline for Kosar to declare for the NFL Draft and when it became apparent Kosar wasn’t going to file, decided to leave the decision up to Kosar and allowed the Vikings to meet with the quarterback to negotiate a contract prior to the 1985 NFL Draft. He also announced if no deal was made, the NFL would hold a supplemental draft for Kosar and any other eligible players. Kosar declined the Vikings. On April 25, Kosar again announced he wanted to play for his hometown team the Cleveland Browns and would not enter the 1985 NFL Draft. On May 10, Kosar sent a letter to the commissioner saying he was making himself available for the supplemental draft. On June 25, Kosar passed his last final exam and officially graduated. Finally, on July 3, 1985, quarterback Bernie Kosar was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Supplemental Draft and signed to a five-year contract. The rest is NFL loophole history. Too bad social media wasn’t around, there would be videos of grown men crying.

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