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Dexter Manley

Defensive End
Yates, Texas
February 2, 1959
265 lbs
Oklahoma State
NFL Career
11 seasons, 143 games
Washington Redskins


Career Highlights And Awards

• Two-time Super Bowl Champion (XVII, XXII)
• Three Super Bowl Appearances (1983, 1984, 1988)
• Pro Bowl selection (1986)
• First team All Pro 1986
• Second Team All pro 1987
• NFL All Decade Team 1980s
• Voted one of the 70 Greatest Redskins
• Voted to the Washington Ring of Fame
• All-Time Redskins Sack leader (unofficial)*

The Secretary of Defense

Dexter Manley is widely regarded as one of the most dominant defensive ends in the history of the National Football League. He played for 11 seasons in the NFL – primarily with the Washington Redskins – and was best known for his ferocious pass-rushing abilities.

Unfortunately he also struggled with drug addiction.

Manley was born on February 2, 1959, in Yates (Houston), Texas. He grew up in a rough neighborhood in the city.

He attended Yates High School, where he excelled as a football player and was named an All-American.

After graduating from high school, he attended Oklahoma State University, where he established himself as one of the top defensive players in the country.

Pro Career

Manley was draftted in the fifth round of the 1981 NFL Draft by Washington. He was part of the best draft class in Redskins history.

That year, Washington selected Mark May in the first round, Russ Grimm in the third round, Manley in the fifth, Charlie Brown in the eighth round, Darryl Grant in the ninth round, and Clint Didier in the twelfth round. All six of those players were starters in the Super Bowl the following season.

Manley quickly established himself as a pass rushing threat. In his rookie season, he recorded 6.0 sacks.

In his second season, he registered 6.5 sacks and was an important part of the Redskins Super Bowl XVII run. The first in franchise history. He had the only Washington sack in their 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Ramping It Up

Over the next few seasons, Manley became a feared presence on the field, known for his explosive speed, quickness, and strength. He registered double digit sack totals for four straight seasons (1983-1986).

In 1986, Manley had his best season in the NFL, recorded 18.5 sacks and earned First-Team All-Pro honors. He was runner up for NFC Defensive Player of the Year. The Redskins finished 12-4 and won their first two playoff games but were stymied by the New York Giants in the Conference Final.

In 1987, he helped lead the Redskins to another Super Bowl victory. He had only 8 sacks in the regular season, but was absolutely clutch in the playoffs as the Washington defense turned up the heat.

Manley had 1.5 sacks in the Conference Championship against Wade Wilson and the Minnesota Vikings. The Redskins defense was dominant, sacking Wilson EIGHT times in their 17-10 victory.

Manley and his defensive team mates continued the onslaught in Super Bowl XXII against John Elway. Manley (1.5 sacks) and Alvin Walton (2 sacks) were in the backfield all day and gave Elway fits. The Bronco quarterback finished just 14 of 38 – was sacked five times and had a rating of 36.8. Washington pounded Denver 42-10.

Manley continued to play well over the next few seasons, but his production dropped off in 1987 and 1988. He also failed drug tests in both years. He was suspended for thirty days during training camp in 1988.

Issues Start

Manley’s life off the field was becoming increasingly troubled.

He struggled with his drug addiction throughout his career, but it finally peaked in 1989 when he was suspended by the NFL for a year after testing positive for cocaine. A week after his suspension, he publicly admitted that he had a cocaine problem.

He was reinstated by the league in 1990 but was immediately released by the Redskins. Joe Gibbs had been quite supportive of Manley up until that point but had apparently run out.

Moving On

Manley joined the Phoenix Cardinals the day after he was released, but appeared in just four games. His performance on the field was not as it had been in the past and for the first time in his career, he failed to register a sack.

He landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1991 and appeared in 14 games and starting seven. He managed to show some of his old ability and had 6.5 sacks. Unfortunately, he had not slayed his demons. He retired immediately following a drug test that he knew he wouldn’t pass. It was the fourth time he had failed such a test.

It was a sad ending to a promising NFL career.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have come here today to announce my immediate retirement from the National Football League,” said Manley at a press conference. He was very visibly upset.

A league spokesperson said at the time, “I cannot foresee any circumstance under which Manley will ever play again in the NFL.”

He played in 143 career NFL games – starting 120 of them. 113 of those games were with the Redskins, for whom he tallied a franchise record 97 sacks*.


Post NFL

Manley would play two seasons in the Canadian Football League in 1992 and 1993 with the Ottawa Rough Riders, before retiring from the game.

Unfortunately he continued to struggle with drug addiction and legal issues. He was arrested several times for drug possession in the mid nineties. He served 15 months of a four-year prison sentence and was paroled in November of 1996.


Manley’s legacy in the NFL is complicated by his off-the-field struggles, but there is no denying his incredible talent as a football player. His story is a powerful reminder of the dangers of drug addiction and the importance of seeking help and support when struggling with substance abuse.

It’s hard to predict what might have happened if drugs hadn’t played such a negative influence in the menacing defensive end’s career. At times, he was unstoppable. At times, he showed a brilliance seldom shown by anyone.

After putting his demons in the rear view mirror, he remains one of the most beloved and memorable players in Washington Redskins history. His journey from football star to drug addict to motivational speaker is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of redemption.

He was inducted into the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame in 2018.

Away From Football

In 1986, Manley collapsed in a department store and was found to have a colloid cyst.

He underwent surgery in 2006, and that cyst was finally removed. While he recovered well,memory loss is a common side effect of the surgery.

He also had a very tough battle with COVID in 2020.

  • – sacks were not tracked until 1982, so Manley’s totals from 1981 are considered unofficial. Because of that, Ryan Kerrigan technically holds the Washington title of most career sacks (95.5)

Tough Picks Dexter Manley


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