AFC North: Ricky Williams retires

This is the official retirement announcement from Ravens running back Ricky Williams:

"The NFL has been an amazing page in this chapter of my life. I pray that all successive adventures offer me the same potential for growth, success and most importantly, fun. I want to thank all my fans, teammates, coaches and supporters for the strength they've given me to overcome so much. I want to especially thank my family, coach Mack Brown, Coach [Mike] Ditka, Coach [Bill] Parcells, Ronnie Brown, Wilbert Montgomery and the Jamail family for believing in me. As for what's next, I am excited about all the opportunities ahead -- continuing my education, running The Ricky Williams Foundation and whatever other opportunities present themselves.

"My football career has been filled with many great memories going back to pee wee football with coach Tom Miller, [San Diego's] Patrick Henry High School and coach Jerry Varner and on to the University of Texas. It has been a big part of my life and blessed me with so many wonderful opportunities and the chance to connect with many people who have helped me grow and mature. I will miss the game, the camaraderie, my teammates and especially the emotions of a big victory. I love the game and leave it feeling fulfilled, proud, in great health and excited about the future.

"I have to thank Coach [John] Harbaugh and the Ravens organization for the opportunity they gave me this year. I had so much fun and really appreciated the chance to finish on such a great note."

My take on the announcement is whether Williams will stay retired. Here are other reactions from the Ravens:

Ravens running back Ray Rice: "I was a big fan of Ricky before we were teammates, but being around him this year is the best thing that happened to me in my NFL career. As a young player, you need to be around a guy who knows what he is doing, and Ricky was tremendous to learn from. The way he took care of his body and the way he prepared, he always showed that he is a true professional. This past season with him is a year I will never forget. I had the best year with him beside me, and that was no accident. I believe that Ricky Williams is a Hall of Famer. All that he has done in his career, he deserves that. I was honored to share the field with him when he went over 10,000 yards. What an amazing accomplishment, as he is one of the best. I will miss him, but I wish him and his family well."

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome: "Ricky is one of the most productive rushers in league history, and he was a tremendous asset to our team this past season. We enjoyed having him as a member of the Ravens, as his leadership, work ethic and commitment contributed to our success. We are grateful for his contributions, and we wish him nothing but the best going forward."

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh: "Ricky, in his time here, made a valuable and lasting contribution. I especially enjoyed getting to know him as a person, and I have the utmost respect for him. He was great to be around and to work with every single day. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

Baltimore running back Ricky Williams plans to retire, according to ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

When I first heard this, my initial reaction was: Will he stay retired?

Williams stunned the NFL with an early retirement in 2004. But he was back in July 2005.

He talked retirement before the 2009 season, saying he wanted to play two more seasons before calling it quits. But he played with Baltimore in 2011.

Williams
Williams, 34, even spoke about his intentions about playing next season for the Ravens after the AFC championship game loss at New England.

“My body feels good and I know I’m going to train hard and so I’m excited about next year,” Williams said last month, via the team's website. “I’ve grown a lot, kind of falling into a new role and a new city and a new organization, and I’ve gotten better. And like everyone else, I feel like I have something to build on for next year.”

So, what changed?

After the news broke about his retirement today, Williams addressed it in a cryptic Twitter message: "Thank you all, but this ain't it. I'm gonna do something really special. 'Be you and change the world.'"

If Williams does follow through with his retirement, it will be a big loss for the Ravens even though Williams isn't the same powerful running back from a few years ago.

What the Ravens lose isn't the stats that Williams produced last year. He rushed for a career-low 444 yards and scored two touchdowns.

What the Ravens lose is a reliable insurance policy for running back Ray Rice. If Rice went down for any significant amount of time, Baltimore didn't have to worry about handing the ball to Williams, one of 26 players in NFL history to rush for 10,000 yards.

To be honest, Williams was underused in his first season with the Ravens. He averaged less than seven carries per game and caught 13 passes, but it was hard to get him onto the field because it meant taking Rice off of it.

The Ravens signed Williams last year to a two-year contract to replace Willis McGahee, so it appears that their preference is to have an experienced backup. Baltimore's third-string running back Anthony Allen, a seventh-round pick last year, looked like he would need another year before becoming the team's primary backup.

This means the Ravens will be searching for a second-tier running back in free agency.

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