A.J. Francis flirted with the Commanders
Francis grew up in Washington, attending Gonzaga High School and the University of Maryland. He signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent in 2013, and bounced around the NFL for a few years before returning home to the now Commanders in 2016.
In 2017, the 6-foot-5, 337-pound defensive tackle filled in for Ziggy Hood for a few games. He played more than 150 snaps and recorded 18 tackles – a decent rate for an interior lineman – higher than the rates of Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne in 2022, though admittedly a much smaller sample size.
In his final game for Washington, Francis had six tackles against the New York Giants. The Commanders would select Payne and Tim Settle in the 2018 NFL Draft, and subsequently release him along with Montari Hughes and Terrell McClain.
Francis signed with the Giants a few days later. But he would be released in the final round of cuts before the 2018 season.
After his release by Washington, Francis made several cutting comments about his hometown team, including calling the team’s mascot racist. His outspokenness earned applause in some corners and disdain in others. And perhaps it hinted at the direction his future athletic career would take.
After his release by the Giants, Francis shifted his ambitions to professional wrestling. He signed with WWE in early 2020 and debuted for the NXT brand a year later. He was now Top Dolla – a member of Hit Row, and he was wrestling for the tag team championship soon after.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 slowed Francis’ assent just as he was getting started, but Top Dolla is still out there, with enough athleticism and attitude to make a pretty good name for himself. We’ll see what the future holds.
Plenty of other wrestlers flirted with the NFL – from Brock Lesnar to Roman Reigns, Ron Simmons to Bill Goldberg. The Big Cat Ernie Ladd probably had the most combined success, excelling in each field.
Frank Goodish, Jim Brunzell and A.J. Francis never made much of a mark in the NFL, and Andre the Giant was always a pipe dream. But they form a quirky little piece of Commanders history.