Can a player refuse to play for the team he was drafted by?

Just a few college players have ever entered the NFL Draft with reservations of where they might end up. John Elway and Eli Manning were the land layers.

Players refusing to play for franchises that draft them

For most youngsters who lace up the cleats in PeeWee Football, reaching the NFL is a life long dream. A few get to play after high school, and from those few a select bunch have the fortune to strap on the pads in the pros.

NFL Draft 2021

For most, the commissioner calling your name on draft day is the culmination of a childhood dream. Regardless of the team, or the city, players pose for picture on the draft stage with ear-to-ear smiles having realized their life long goal.

The NFL Draft will start on April 29th at 8pm ET

But there are some who not only have earned the chance to be picked in the NFL’s selection show, they are the ones running the show. While it doesn’t happen too often, some soon-to-be NFLers have so much power, and attract so much desire entering the draft they can essentially choose where they would and would not like to play.

Being the first pick in the draft means a number of things. First, you are the most attractive fit for the team with the top slot on selection day. Second, there is a fat pay check waiting for you once terms are agreed upon. Third, the team with the opening pick is almost always coming off of a terrible season that landed them there in the first place.

Elway and Eli were the pioneers, refusing to play for franchises

The two big cases of college stars coming into the pros with premeditated plans on where they would end up were John Elway and Eli Manning. Two quarterbacks, over twenty years apart, who knew they were likely to be top picks in franchises they weren’t particularly fond of.

John Elway, out of the University of Stanford, was the the projected #1 pick in the 1983 draft. The Baltimore Colts had the top pick that year after a winless season, and had all eyes on Elway. But the Cardinal QB was not keen on joining a franchise that had been in the slums of the National Football for years. Five straight seasons of sub .500 football was enough for Elway to steer clear of Baltimore.

Elway was a two sport star coming out of college

So Elway, who was a star baseball player, who was actually drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school went to Stanford and was a two sport star. This left him options coming out of college and declaring for the NFL Draft.

He knew he was a hot commodity coming out of school. And he knew he would most likely wind up as the number pick. The only problem from Elway was who was waiting in the wind to draft him in 1983.

Stanford is a fantastic academic university. To play quarterback in college takes a certain level of smarts as well. Elway wasn’t just prepared athletically to enter the NFL, he was prepared mentally as well. He had a back up plan just in case the Baltimore Colts were going to select him with the top spot in the draft.

The future Hall of Famer threatened to quit football forever. With his roots split between football and baseball, he had options. He was drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 1981 and played Class A ball the year after.

The former Cardinal was ready for a life in the MLB

No draft day trades were made for Elway, so Baltimore drafted John. “As I stand here right now, I’m playing baseball” said the former Stanford QB when asked about being drafted by the Colts.

In the end Baltimore knew they would never have their top pick playing under center for them, so Robert Irsay started talks with the Denver Broncos. Offensive lineman Chris Hinton, back up QB Mark Herrmann and a future first rounder were the agreed upon fee for Elway to part ways with the Colts.

Twenty one years later Eli did the same to the Chargers

Eli Manning was another one of the up and coming stars to enter the draft certain he didn’t want to play for the team that had the top pick in the draft. The San Diego Chargers had the top choice in 2004, and all indications pointed to them taking the Ole Miss QB.

Manning made his intentions clear, he did not want to be a part of a team that had gone eight seasons with out a winning record. And the Chargers knew of his intentions, so they decided to look for trade options.

Chargers and Giants trade sent Eli to the Big Apple

A deal was in place that San Diego would draft Manning with the top spot and the New York Giants would draft Phillip Rivers with the fourth overall pick. The only problem was the teams and #2 and #3 in the draft were open to drafting Manning and ruining the deal, but in the end both teams got what they were looking for and Eli landed in the Big Apple.

We hardly ever see an outright refusal from a player who was drafted by a team. But in the end a team doesn’t want to waste a top draft pick and the player doesn’t want to be left without options of playing. It doesn’t appear that we will have any draft day drama this year, but if it does it won’t be the first time.