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The long history of the draft-order coin flip has ended

With a revision to the bylaws passed in March, the NFL owners have effectively ended the longstanding practice of tossing a coin to break any ties in the draft order.

Coin flips to determine draft position likely date back to the very first NFL draft in 1936, following a season in which the Chicago Bears and Cardinals tied for the 5th-worst record at 6-4-2. The Cardinals won this presumed flip and drafted 5th in the first round. As became the norm in future years, the teams involved in the coin toss swapped draft positions in even-numbered rounds.

The first coin flip that could be documented took place in the 1939 draft, when the Cardinals won the right to the first overall pick over the equally woeful Pittsburgh Pirates.[1]

The most luckless team in a draft coin toss may have been the 1945 Brooklyn Tigers, who finished the 1944 season with a winless 0-10 record.  However, the temporarily merged Cardinals–Steelers team, a necessity caused by the manpower shortages due to World War II, also finished 0-10. When both resumed as full franchises in 1945, each was considered for draft purposes to have gone winless in 1944.  In the three-way coin flip,[2] the Cardinals won, the Steelers finished second, and the unfortunate Tigers third.  The Tigers draft choice, Joe Renfroe, never played a down in the NFL, opting instead to become an assistant coach at Gulf Coast Military Academy (Gulfport, Mississippi). The Brooklyn Tigers also would not play another down in the NFL, as they temporarily merged with the Boston Yanks for the 1945 season, then jumped to the new All-America Football Conference (as the New York Yankees).

Draft position ties happened occasionally in the 1940s and ’50s NFL, but their frequency would expand as the league did. When the NFL added franchises in 1960s and then agreed to a common draft with the American Football League in 1967 as part of the eventual 1970 merger, the number of teams in the draft more than doubled. The breaking point came in the 1975 draft, when a record 6-way tie was broken by an undisclosed multiple-coin-flip procedure, and 18 of the 26 teams had their ultimate position determined by a coin flip. Starting with the 1976 draft, coin flips were only used to break interconference ties that existed after considering playoff performance and strength of schedule. Division and conference tiebreakers that were used to determine playoff positioning were adapted to eliminate most of the coin flips.

Overall number-1 tossup

The overall number one was subject to a random selection four times in the common draft era — twice when the NFL added two expansion teams at once, and twice when teams tied for the worst record in the league.

The Steelers, languishing in the sub-basement of the NFL standings for their first four decades, won the first overall pick in the 1970 Draft at a Super Bowl IV press conference when Bears treasurer/George Halas son-in-law Ed McCaskey misguessed “heads”. The Steelers used the pick on a quarterback out of Louisiana Tech by the name of Terry Bradshaw; the disappointed Bears would trade the second-overall choice to the Packers for three veterans, none of whom lasted with the Bears beyond 1970.

The other coin flip involving the two worst teams was less dramatic.  The 1974 Colts had finished 2-12 despite having quarterback-of-the-future Bert Jones; the 1974 Giants did the same while sending their 1975 first-rounder to the Cowboys in a disastrous trade for Craig Morton.  The Colts won the flip; four days later, they traded it to the Falcons, who would take California QB Steve Bartkowski. The Cowboys selected future Hall of Famer Randy White one pick later.

The next year, the Buccaneers and Seahawks entered the league. Instead of the normal coin toss for draft position, Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse and Seattle owner Herman Sarkowsky picked envelopes out of a helmet; Culverhouse selected the one marked “college draft”, giving the Buccaneers the first overall pick in the normal draft. Sarkowsky’s “pro draft” gave the Seahawks the first overall pick in the veteran allocation draft in which the Buccaneers and Seahawks drafted unwanted players off of the other 26 teams’ rosters. With the first overall pick in the college draft, the Buccaneers took future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon.[3]

The Panthers and Jaguars would start play in the 1995 season, but their order in that draft was determined during the 1994 draft. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue flipped a special coin minted with the two team logos. The Panthers’ logo was revealed on Tagliabue’s wrist, giving them the overall number one in the 1995 draft and leaving the Jaguars the consolation prize of the first pick in the 1995 veterans allocation draft. After pondering their choice for a year, on Draft Day 1995 the Panthers traded down with the Bengals.  The Bengals then selected Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, who would tear his ACL in his first preseason game and never fully recover.

Draft position coin flips, common draft era (1967-present)

Since 2010, these coin flips have once again become public events, broadcast live from the NFL Combine and with special coins minted for the occasion.

The 2019 Draft is the final time that a coin flip is near the top of the tiebreaking procedures; it will now be buried in a long list in the divisional, conference, and now interconference tiebreakers. It ends in a whimper, as there were no such coin flips in its last draft.

The table below shows how the teams involved in a coin toss were ordered in the first-round and the player chosen, with trades shown in superscript.

First overall pick awarded to expansion team. Hall of Fame inductee.

Year Pick Tied team Player Pos Method
2018 9 SF Mike McGlinchey OT Minted coin (photo) (video)
10 OAK →ARI Josh Rosen QB
2017 14 MIN →PHI Derek Barnett DE Minted coin, MIN had already traded pick to PHI for Sam Bradford
15 IND Malik Hooker S
2014 16 DAL Zack Martin G Minted coin (video)
17 BAL C.J. Mosley LB
2012 8 MIA Ryan Tannehill QB Minted coin
9 CAR Luke Kuechly LB
2012 11 KC Dontari Poe DT Minted coin
12 SEA →PHI Fletcher Cox DT
2010 10 JAX Tyson Alualu DT Minted coin
11 CHI →SF Anthony Davis T
2010 16 TEN Derrick Morgan DE Minted coin
17 CAR →SF Mike Iupati G
2010 19 ATL Sean Weatherspoon LB Minted coin
20 HOU Kareem Jackson DB
2008 3 ATL Matt Ryan QB Super Bowl XLII coin, ATL called toss vs OAK and OAK-KC tie resolved by divisional tiebreakers; 2nd flip would have been needed had OAK won
4 OAK Darren McFadden RB
5 KC Glenn Dorsey DT
2007 3 CLE Joe Thomas T Gift coin from MacDill AFB, TB called toss
4 TB Gaines Adams DT
2006 6 SF Vernon Davis TE SF called toss
7 OAK Michael Huff DB
2004 7 CLE →DET Roy Williams WR
8 ATL DeAngelo Hall DB
2003 10 BAL Terrell Suggs LB 2 coin flips: BAL called first toss and won the right to call the second toss
11 SEA Marcus Trufant DB
2002 14 TEN →NYG Jeremy Shockey TE NYG traded with TEN, effectively reversing the coin flip result
15 NYG →TEN Albert Haynesworth DT
2002 16 CLE William Green RB
17 ATL →OAK Phillip Buchanon DB
2000 14 GB Bubba Franks TE
15 BAL →DEN Deltha O’Neal DB
1997 9 ARI Tom Knight DB Quarter from reporter (kept by Bill Bidwill), ARI called toss
10 OAK →NO Chris Naeole G
1996 8 CAR Tim Biakabutuka RB
9 HOU Oilers →OAK Rickey Dudley TE
1995 1 CAR →CIN Ki-Jana Carter RB Minted coin, toss conducted at previous year’s draft (photo); JAX picked first in allocation draft
2 JAX Tony Boselli T
1995 7 TB →PHI Mike Mamula DE
8 SEA Joey Galloway WR
1991 4 DEN Mike Croel LB
5 STL Rams Todd Lyght DB
1991 8 GB →PHI Antone Davis T
9 SD Stanley Richard DB
1982 7 MIN Darrin Nelson RB
8 HOU Oilers Mike Munchak G
1976 1 TB Lee Roy Selmon DE Drew envelopes from helmet: “college draft” and “pro draft”
2 SEA Steve Niehaus DT
1975 1 BAL Colts →ATL Steve Bartkowski QB Commissioner Pete Rozelle flipped a silver dollar with BAL and DAL; NYG traded draft choice in 1974 to acquire QB Craig Morton. BAL traded after determined to be 1st overall
2 NYG →DAL Randy White DT
1975 4 CHI Walter Payton RB
5 CLE Mack Mitchell DE
1975 6 KC →HOU Oilers Robert Brazile LB
7 NO Larry Burton WR
8 SD Gary Johnson DT
1975 9 GB →LA Rams Mike Fanning DT
10 SF Jimmy Webb[4] DT
1975 11 PHI →LA Rams Dennis Harrah G A 6-team tie is the record for the most teams placed by coin flips
12 NYJ →NO Kurt Schumacher G
13 DET Lynn Boden G
14 CIN Glen Cameron LB
15 HOU Oilers Don Hardeman RB
16 NE Russ Francis TE
1975 20 LA Rams Doug France T
21 STL Cards Tim Gray DB
22 WAS →SD Mike Williams DB
1974 2 SD Bo Matthews RB
3 NYG John Hicks G
1974 5 BAL Colts John Dutton DT
6 NYJ Carl Barzilauskas DT
1974 8 NO →DET Ed O’Neil LB
9 NE →SF Wilbur Jackson RB
10 SF Bill Sandifer DT
1974 14 DEN Randy Gradishar LB
15 CLE →SD Don Goode LB
16 KC Woody Green RB
1974 17 ATL →MIN Fred McNeill LB
18 BUF Reuben Gant TE
1974 20 WAS →CHI Dave Gallagher DE
21 PIT Lynn Swann WR
22 DAL Charley Young RB
23 CIN Bill Kollar DE
1973 2 NO →BAL Colts Bert Jones QB
3 PHI Jerry Sisemore T
1973 5 STL Cards Dave Butz DT
6 SD →PHI Charle Young TE
7 BUF Paul Seymour TE
8 CHI Wally Chambers DT
1973 9 DEN Otis Armstrong RB
10 BAL Colts Joe Ehrmann DT
1973 12 MIN Chuck Foreman RB
13 NYJ Burgess Owens DB
14 ATL →HOU Oilers George Amundson RB
1973 15 CIN Isaac Curtis WR
16 NYG →CLE Steve Holden WR
17 KC →DET Earnest Price DE
1973 18 SF Mike Holmes DB
19 DET →NE Darryl Stingley WR
1973 20 DAL Billy Joe Dupree TE
21 GB Barry Smith WR
22 CLE Pete Adams G
1972 2 CIN Sherman White DE
3 NYG →CHI Lionel Antoine T
1972 4 STL Cards Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad) WR
5 DEN Riley Odoms TE
6 HOU Oilers Greg Sampson T
1972 7 GB Willie Buchanon DB
8 NO Royce Smith G
1972 9 NYJ Jerome Barkum TE
10 NE →MIN Jeff Siemon LB
11 SD →GB Jerry Tagge QB
12 CHI Craig Clemons DB
13 PIT Franco Harris RB
1972 15 ATL Clarence Ellis DB
16 DET Herb Orvis DT
1972 18 CLE Thomas Darden DB
19 SF Terry Beasley WR
1972 20 WAS →NYJ Mike Taylor LB
21 OAK Mike Siani WR
1971 3 HOU Oilers Dan Pastorini QB
4 BUF J.D. Hill WR
5 PHI Richard Harris DE
1971 10 WAS →LA Rams Isiah Robertson LB
11 CHI Joe Moore RB
12 GB →DEN Marv Montgomery T
1971 21 DET Bob Bell DT
22 MIA →BAL Colts Don McCauley RB
1970 1 PIT Terry Bradshaw QB 1921 silver dollar at Super Bowl press conference, CHI called toss (other 1970 Draft ties conducted earlier in private), CHI traded its pick ten days later
2 CHI →GB Mike McCoy DT
1970 4 BOS Patriots Phil Olsen DT
5 BUF Al “AC Dammit” Cowlings DE
1970 6 PHI Steve Zabel LB
7 CIN Mike Reid DT
8 STL Cards Larry Stegent RB
1970 12 ATL John Small DT
13 NYG Jim Files LB
1970 15 SD Walker Gillette WR
16 GB Rich McGeorge TE
1969 2 ATL George Kunz T
3 PHI Leroy Keyes DB
1969 9 DEN →SD Marty Domres QB
10 WAS →LA Rams Jim Seymour WR
1969 13 CHI →NYG Fred Dryer DE NYG traded with CHI, effectively reversing the positions established by the flip
14 NYG →CHI Rufus Mayes T
15 HOU Oilers Ron Pritchard LB
1969 22 OAK Art Thoms DT
23 KC Jim Marsalis DB
24 DAL Calvin Hill RB
1968 4 DEN →SD Russ Washington T
5 NO →GB Fred Carr LB
1968 8 MIA Larry Csonka RB
9 BUF Haven Moses WR
1968 13 STL Cards MacArthur Lane RB
14 PHI Tim Rossovich LB
1968 17 NYJ Lee White RB
18 SD Jim Hill DB
1968 19 KC Mo Moorman G
20 DAL Dennis Homan WR
21 CLE Marvin Upshaw DE
1968 23 BAL Colts John Williams T
24 LA Rams →DET Earl McCullouch WR
1967 3 ATL →SF Steve Spurrier QB
4 MIA Bob Griese QB
5 HOU Oilers George Webster LB
1967 7 DET Mel Farr RB
8 MIN Gene Washington WR
1967 11 SF Cas Banaszek T
12 NYJ Paul Seiler C
13 WAS Ray McDonald RB
1967 16 STL Cards Dave Williams WR
17 OAK Gene Upshaw G
1967 18 CLE Bob Matheson LB Detwiler, who injured his knee in training camp, is the most recent 1st round pick to never play a regular season game in the NFL
19 PHI Harry Jones RB
20 BAL Colts Jim Detwiler HB

 

  1. [1]In what was the first-ever trade involving a future draft pick, the Pirates had during the 1938 season sent their upcoming first-round selection to the Bears for veteran end Eggs Manske; the Bears took future Hall of Famer Sid Luckman with the second-overall pick.
  2. [2]How exactly the 3-way coin toss took place is unknown. Unbiased methods would include having three simultaneous flips, with the coin landing with the opposite result of the other two winning, as was done for the 1988 Texas high school playoffs; spinning a three-sided top; or flipping a Toblerone bar.
  3. [3]Exactly who the Seahawks took first in the allocation draft is unknown, which may have been a deliberate decision by the league.
  4. [4]In a lost marketing opportunity, Webb did not attend Wichita State.

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