Hall of Fame coach Don Shula spent most of his career in a league that didn’t have meaningful, or any, free agency. That doesn’t mean he didn’t lose players when their contracts expired.
The Dolphins and Shula saw three key players — running back Larry Csonka, running back Jim Kiick, and receiver Paul Warfield — leave for the WFL in 1975, after their NFL contracts expired.
Yes, the WFL. An alternate league that competed for NFL players, the WFL played in 1974 and 1975, targeting NFL players for deals that would kick in after their NFL deals.
Without Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield (who collectively were due to receive $3 million on three-year deals), the Dolphins missed the playoffs for the first time in Shula’s tenure, after five straight postseason appearances.
The WFL folded in 1975, with the trio returning to the NFL the next year. Csonka joined the Giants, Kiick signed with the Broncos, and Warfield reunited with the Browns, the team for which he played before joining the Dolphins.
And if the WFL had survived, things would have gotten very interesting for the Raiders in 1976, the year that resulted in the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. Quarterback Ken Stabler had signed a deal to join the Birmingham Vulcans of the WFL after the 1975 season.
The long-forgotten WFL included teams like the Charlotte Hornets, the Houston Texans, the Hawaiians (yes, just “the Hawaiians”), the Southern California Sun, the Philadelphia Bell, and the Shreveport (not Cleveland) Steamer. Fans of the Dolphins from the ’70s surely haven’t forgotten the havoc the league wreaked on one of the NFL’s elite teams of the day.