Reflecting on Ricky Williams and Saints

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
4:15
PM ET

Tuesday’s news that Baltimore Ravens running back Ricky Williams is retiring comes with a bit of an NFC South angle.

Williams once was the biggest thing to ever hit the New Orleans Saints. Remember the 1999 draft, when the Saints traded away all their picks from that year, plus a couple more for the following year, for the right to draft Williams?

Yeah, it made headlines all over the place because it was one of the most daring trades ever -- we’re talking way more daring and dangerous than what the Falcons gave up to get Julio Jones or what the Saints gave up to get Mark Ingram in the 2011 draft.

It was the biggest deal coach Mike Ditka made and (along with a 3-13 record that season) it led to the end of his coaching career.

When coach Jim Haslett arrived the next season, Williams had some success. He had two 1,000-yard seasons, but there were issues. Williams was a unique personality. He didn’t interact a lot with teammates and often conducted interviews behind the shield of his helmet.

"Ricky's just a different guy," former New Orleans receiver Joe Horn once said. "People he wanted to deal with, he did. And people he wanted to have nothing to do with, he didn't. No one could understand that. I don't think guys in the locker room could grasp that he wanted to be to himself -- you know, quiet. If you didn't understand him and didn't know what he was about, it always kept people in suspense."

Haslett was in suspense or, at the very least, never quite could figure out Williams. That’s part of the reason Deuce McAllister was drafted. By the end of the 2001 season, in which Williams rushed for 1,245 yards and caught 60 passes, Haslett was pretty clear that Williams didn’t fit his long-term plans.

In the spring of 2002, the Saints traded Williams to the Miami Dolphins. They were able to get back some of what they initially gave up for Williams by getting four draft picks, including two first-round choices, in return.

Williams’ career would go on to have all sorts of twists and turns. He had success at times in Miami. He also retired from football in 2004, only to return in 2005. Williams was suspended by the NFL in 2006 and wound up playing for Toronto in the Canadian Football League.

Williams returned to the Dolphins in 2007. He finished his career with Baltimore and ended up with 10,009 rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns (66 of them on the ground).

Not a bad career, especially when you consider all the interruptions.

Would it have somehow worked out better if things had been handled differently and Williams spent his entire career in New Orleans? It’s impossible to say for sure.

Williams’ track record suggests he might have encountered some of the same, or different, problems if he had been with the Saints the entire time. Things worked out all right for him. They also worked out for the Saints, aside from the initial price tag to get Williams. McAllister ended up having a very nice career.

Reggie Bush came in and did some nice things at certain times. Along the way, the Saints also added Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, who have done some pretty nice things at running back.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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