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NFL: Top 5 draft picks that refused to sign

The NFL Draft is right around the corner, scheduled to take place from April 29 to May 1. Because of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement (more on that here), most players are only too keen to play for the franchise that calls their name; they don't really have much of a choice. Although it doesn't happen all that often, there have been instances of players refusing to sign on the dotted line.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 5 draft picks who refused to sign with their allocated franchise:


5 NFL Players that refused to sign with the team that drafted them

In no particular order:

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Ernie Davis flat out denies the Redskins


An honorary pick at number five is Ernie Davis. The gifted half-back enjoyed a fine college career. He chalked up 877 rushing yards (7.8 yards per carry!) during the 1960 season, and followed that up with another 823 rushing yards in 1961 to win the Heisman Trophy. He was the first African-American to do so.


After watching Davis win the Heisman Trophy, the Washington Redskins decided to pluck him in the 1962 NFL Draft and make him what would have been the franchise's first rostered African-American talent. There was just one problem: Davis (quite rightly) took exception to the fact that then Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall hadn't come around to the idea of racial integration within football, at least not of his own accord. The Redskins organization was in fact the last NFL franchise to racially integrate black players into the locker room, and Marshall was ordered to sign a black player by US Interior Secretary, Stewart Udall.

It was reported that Davis had this to say upon hearing he was being drafted by the Redskins:

“I won’t play for that S.O.B.”

Eventually, Washington agreed to trade Davis to the Cleveland Browns and there is little doubt that he would have become one of the team's all-time greats had he been able to suit up. Tragically, Davis contracted leukemia during the summer of 1962. The Browns had hoped he'd make a full recovery, but he died before ever getting the chance to play in front of the Dawg Pound.


Rest in peace, Ernie.

John Elway refused to join the Baltimore Colts


In 1983, John Elway was selected with the first overall pick of the draft by the Baltimore Colts. The Stanford University product never had any intention of playing for them though. Elway refused the call, going so far as to threaten to jack in football altogether and forge a career in the MLB if he was forced to play for the now defunct Colts.

Baltimore tried in earnest to convince Elway to stay but eventually gave in to his demands.

Elway was traded to the Denver Broncos, where he became one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, winning two Super Bowl Championships.

Bo Jackson had no intention of playing for the Tampa Bay Buccanneers


The Tampa Bay Buccanneers tried to draft Bo Jackson with their number 1 pick in the 1986 NFL Draft. Jackson refused to link up with the franchise, deciding instead to spend the year playing baseball with the Kansas City Royals.

Eventually, the Bucs were left with no choice but to renounce their pick just in time for the 1987 draft.

The Los Angeles Raiders swooped in and took Jackson with what has been called one of the greatest seventh-round draft picks in the history of the NFL.

Bo Jackson bounced back and forth between baseball and football for several seasons before avascular necrosis destroyed all the cartilage surrounding his left hip, forcing him to retire from the NFL.

Despite often being referred to as a part-timer, Jackson is remembered as one of the best backs the game has ever seen and left behind a highlight reel of incredible, full-throttle running plays for fans to enjoy.


Jim Kelly: the Bills' legend who didn't want to play for the Bills...


Before entering the 1983 NFL Draft, QB Jim Kelly asked his agent to ensure he wasn't traded anywhere cold, citing the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills as the three teams he would never play for.

The Packers and Vikings sensibly passed on the option to sign young Jim Kelly, but apparently, nobody told the Bills, who took him with the 14th overall pick.

True to his word, the University of Miami product refused to play for the Bills, instead opting to sign on with the United States Football League.

It was only after the collapse of the USFL that Kelly joined Buffalo, going on to become one of the greatest players in Bills' history, and without doubt the best quarterback they had had up until the recent emergence of Josh Allen.

Eli Manning didn't want to be a Charger

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The San Diego Chargers held the number 1 draft pick heading into the 2004 NFL Draft, and Eli Manning - son of Saints legend Archie and brother of Colts/Broncos legend Peyton - was the consensus best available pick at signal-caller.

Eli's father Archie was very worried about the Chargers' set-up and didn't want his son to ruin his career playing with a team that had no championship aspirations. Eli agreed.

Though Archie Manning specifically requested that the Chargers not call his son's name out at the draft, they did anyway, and Eli had to go and hold up the Chargers jersey and have his photo taken, et al.

Less than 48 hours later, Eli was shipped off to the east coast. He joined the New York Giants and went on to win two Super Bowl rings.

Edited by
Shane Henderson
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