Bernard Williams last played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994. Why did they just release him?

There are many strange scenarios in football, and the latest move by the Eagles is one more that will likely be the butt of many jokes to come.


On the surface, the situation seems ridiculous. Quite frankly, when you learn the details of it all perhaps your opinion won’t change, but the former offensive tackle’s story is yet another reminder of the idea that even at the elite level of sports, silly mistakes can be made.

Bernard Williams hadn’t played since 1994, why was he only just released?

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles released an offensive tackle which in itself is no big deal. Players get released all the time in the NFL. Except, the strange thing is that the player in question, Bernard Williams, a former first-round pick, hadn’t played for the team since 1994. Indeed, few across the league or even in the franchise were even aware of who Williams was or is. As you can imagine, the immediate questions asked were ‘Who is Bernard Williams and why is he only now being released?’ The answer to that is interesting, to say the least.

Selected out of Georgia as the No. 14 overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, Williams played just one season with the Philadelphia Eagles during which he was suspended in 1995 for marijuana possession after just six games. Williams would later test positive for a second marijuana test and was suspended for the remainder of that season. This is where it gets interesting. Following his suspension, Williams never applied for reinstatement i.e., his rights were still owned by the Eagles, but as far as the league was concerned, he was still suspended.

Ok, but surely the Eagles understood Bernard Williams’ situation, right?

To be fair to the Eagles, it seems to have been some kind of organizational oversight during a time of change. During his rookie season in 1994, it was Rich Kotite was the head coach in Philly and Harry Gamble was the general manager. At the end of that campaign, Kotite was fired, while Gamble followed him out the door just one season later. As you can probably guess, this was during Williams’ suspension. Next up came Ray Rhodes, who started 1996 as manager which of course was the same season that Williams was up for reinstatement. Given that Williams never applied for reinstatement, Rhodes and Co., likely never - probably never informed about his situation - had no reason to address it, and here we are. One can imagine the organization probably saw it as a question of ‘why release a player who isn’t coming back, and even more so one who isn’t being paid?’ Adding further weight to the story, is the fact that it was a time when Jeffrey Lurie had just become the owner of the franchise and was focused on widespread changes rather than house cleaning.

But who was Bernard Williams?

Now 51 years old, Williams was a former Bulldog as mentioned before and it has to be said, he hit the ground running. In his first and only season in the league, he was selected to the NFL All-Rookie Team in 1994. Interestingly, Williams did play football again, but not in the NFL. In 2000, he turned out for the CFL’s BC Lions, before making a move to XFL’s Memphis Maniax in 2001, and later to the AFL’s Detroit Fury that same year. He would finally end his career with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts for whom he played from 2003-2006.

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