Williams' Dolphins stay will be short-lived


Pro Football

July 31, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

RICKY WILLIAMS didn't have a choice. And neither will Nick Saban.

Just as Williams had to come back to the Miami Dolphins last week, Saban likely will have to banish the erstwhile marijuana smoker and once again running back from his locker room in the not-too-distant future.

Opening the door for Williams' return was a practical matter for Saban, the Dolphins' new head coach. Williams represents a significant investment by Miami, which gave up first-round draft picks in 2002 and 2003 to get him.

The return on that investment was 3,225 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns over two seasons, but no playoff appearances. Then last summer, one week before training camp, Williams walked out on the Dolphins to practice yoga, study holistic medicine and smoke marijuana.

That was right before he was going to get slapped with a four-game suspension for failing a third drug test in the NFL.

So while Williams skied, the Dolphins fried. Their 4-12 season sent former coach Dave Wannstedt into college football and lured Saban from college football to Miami.

Saban is trying to resurrect a franchise down on its luck and impact players. He missed getting Utah quarterback Alex Smith in the draft, but with the second pick, he took Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. Still, he enticed Williams to come back to a place where he was reviled by teammates and fans just months ago.

Williams actually had no choice in the matter. He owes the Dolphins $8.6 million after losing a judgment for walking out. He has three children. He wasn't exactly going to get rich in holistic medicine. He knew if he tried to get another job or go back to school, "I'd have that settlement chasing me," he said. "So I can't say that didn't play into my decision."

So he returns for a minimum salary of $540,000 because his contract lost all its incentives when he retired a year ago. He won't even make that, however, because he's got the four-week suspension hanging over him.

By returning, Williams figures to come to some agreement with the team on the $8.6 million. By accepting him back, Saban figures to restore value to a player who had none. If Williams plays well in the preseason, Saban can trade him for a modest draft pick. If an unexpected situation arises and Saban needed to keep Williams, he could at a bargain-basement price.

But more likely, Saban is either going to trade Williams or cut him. Why? Because you don't bring back a traitor. It doesn't work in foxholes or football huddles. Williams left the Dolphins in the worst position imaginable last season. There's a price to be paid for that.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Dolphins won't get fooled again.

Bowing out gracefully

In the NFL, there's a wrong way to leave (see above) and a right way to leave. Ted Johnson's departure from the world champion New England Patriots last week was as untimely as Williams' a year ago. But it held none of the acrimony and bad blood that permeated Miami a year ago.

Johnson is retiring because of concerns for concussion syndrome. He has played linebacker through several concussions and was beginning to see evidence of memory loss and other symptoms. His loss, coupled with the recent decision by linebacker Tedy Bruschi to sit out the 2005 season after a stroke, leaves the Patriots vulnerable at the position.

Johnson, a 10-year veteran, said he apologized to owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick for the timing. He also said that while the issue had been brewing for a while, it wasn't until he received medical advice that it was increasingly risky to continue to play that he opted out. His teammates support him as he leaves.

"The reality is that your body breaks down, and that is the nature of this business," Johnson said.

Thinking long term

A solid draft and a switch to his preferred 3-4 defense has energized Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. Brushing aside speculation that he might retire (again) after this season, Parcells said at a recent autograph show that he expects to fulfill the last two years of his contract and hinted he might go longer.

"Might I readjust my thinking at some point? After this season? No, I'm here," he said. "If you are talking about going forward beyond [the last two years], to go forward more, sure, that's a possibility."


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