The Eagles released one of their former first-round picks on Thursday.
One who hadn’t played a snap in 29 years.
In a bizarre roster transaction, the Eagles formally waived one-time first-round pick Bernard Williams, who was an All-Rookie offensive tackle in 1994 but was suspended for six games in July of 1995 after a positive marijuana test, then suspended again that October for the remainder of the season.
He never played an NFL snap after his rookie year.
Williams never applied for reinstatement to the NFL and has remained on the NFL’s suspended list for nearly three decades.
According to an Eagles spokesman, NFL officials contacted the Eagles recently and explained that they were clearing out decades-old players on various reserve lists when Williams’ name surfaced. Since the Eagles had never released Williams, he was still technically a member of the team.
The Eagles never bothered to release him and there was never really a reason to. He wasn’t getting paid, he wasn’t gaining pension credit, he didn’t count against the roster. He was a forgotten guy on an obscure reserve list, and it’s likely current Eagles brass didn’t even know he was still technically an Eagle.
Williams’ career began with so much promise.
He was the 14th player taken in the 1994 draft — the Eagles’ last first-round pick out of Georgia until Jordan Davis — and had an outstanding rookie year. He’s one of six Eagles first-round picks to start every game as a rookie in the last 40 years. The others are Tra Thomas, Corey Simon, Lane Johnson, Carson Wentz and DeVonta Smith.
The Eagles drafted Kansas State offensive lineman Barrett Brooks in the second round in 1995 because they knew there was a chance Williams might get suspended. Brooks wound up starting all 16 games in 1995 and enjoyed an 11-year NFL career.
Williams went on to play for the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 2000, the Memphis Maniax of the XFL in 2001, the Detroit Fury of the Arena League in 2001 and 2002 and the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL in 2003 and 2004.
But his last NFL game was Christmas Eve 1994, when the Eagles lost to the Bengals 33-30 at Riverfront Stadium in Rich Kotite’s final game as Eagles head coach.
As training camp opened at West Chester in late July of 1995, new Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said NFL confidentiality rules prevented him from talking about Williams, but speaking generally about players who get suspended, he said, “In any sport, I think you’ve got to be disappointed in any athlete who doesn’t do everything to maximize his God-given abilities for the organization, teammates and most importantly himself.”
Lurie blamed previous owner Norman Braman for the organization drafting a player like Williams when there were red flags he believed they should have seen.
When Lurie bought the team from Braman, he revamped the entire scouting department into something that actually closely resembles what has brought the Eagles tremendous success during most of Lurie’s tenure here.
“They had nobody doing player personnel, they had two scouts who were covering the country but in a rather haphazard way,” Lurie said that day at West Chester.
“It was a mess. … It was an obvious weakness, part of the baggage I inherited. You’ve got to be the best information-gathering team. You’ve got to have a strong scouting department. You’ve got to have incredibly detailed analysis in terms of the players’ background, personality profile, family background and that to me is where we are because of what we put into place.”
Only one top-16 pick league-wide has played fewer games since Williams, and that’s Charles Rogers of the Lions, the second pick in 2003. He played in 15 games from 2003 through 2005.
Williams, 51, can now be claimed by any other team.
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