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During the 2016 season, former Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez found out he had been fired when he received an email with an itinerary for a one-way plane ticket back to Atlanta while his team was on a road trip.
That story prompted ESPN Radio host Mike Golic to recount the story of how his NFL career ended, and it’s a doozy.
After six seasons as a defensive tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles, Golic played the 1993 season with the Miami Dolphins. In the first game of that season, Golic suffered a partially torn ligament in his knee.
Knowing that jobs for non-stars in the NFL are fickle, Golic chose to continue playing on the injured knee, not even having it fully examined until after the season. Golic ended up playing in 15 of those games and starting seven of the final eight, all while making his injury worse.
In January, after the season, the extent of the injury was discovered and Golic had surgery. Just three months later — again, knowing his job was always on the line — he was ready to start practicing.
But what happened next he never saw coming.
In late April, the Dolphins drafted two defensive tackles in the NFL Draft and suddenly Golic was expendable. But there was a catch. While contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed, a team can’t cut a player if he is injured. Golic was technically still hurt following surgery as he was not 100%.
Four days after the draft, Golic went into the office of the trainer because he wanted to practice and see how his knee was progressing. Golic said:
I was still recovering from the knee surgery and training and such. I wanted to give mini-camp a good test for my knee. It wasn’t 100% [healthy] by any chance. So, I was in talking to the team trainer about my knee. I said ‘Listen, it is not really 100%, but I want to go out here and I want to try to see what it can do during mini-camp.’ He said, ‘Well, if you are going to go out there, you need to sign this piece of paper that says your knee is fine and you are going to go practice.’ I did because I wanted to go out there and practice.
What Golic didn’t realize at the time was that he had just given the Dolphins all they needed to release him without having to pay any of his $650,000 salary for the upcoming season.
“So I sign the piece of paper, open the door, and there was somebody standing right there, right there,” Golic said as he pointed in front of him. “I couldn’t even leave the room, and he said ‘the general manager wants to see you.’ And I am like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”
The Dolphins were literally waiting outside the door for Golic to “pass” his physical so that they could cut him.
If he had not signed the waiver, the Dolphins would have been forced to either keep him or pay him an injury settlement to release him. They didn’t have to do either. Instead, the Dolphins used Golic’s willingness to play hurt against him so that they wouldn’t have to pay him.
Golic was cut by the Dolphins and he never played another down in the NFL.
Here is how the move was reported in the Sun-Sentinel at the time:
On the eve of Dolphins mini-camp, salary cap considerations continued to dictate the roster as defensive tackle Mike Golic was released Thursday after passing his physical … Golic and his $650,000 salary were cut as the Dolphins made a quick resolution to their glut of defensive tackles. The Dolphins drafted Mississippi’s Tim Bowens in the first round and Florida’s William Gaines in the fifth round of the draft this week.
It is another painful reminder of how cutthroat the NFL can be. Unlike other sports, the fall is often quick. As soon as a player is no longer needed, teams are on to somebody else.