NFL Nation: Ricky Williams retires

NFL32: Ricky Williams' legacy

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
11:13
PM ET


Wendi and Mort discuss the legacy Ricky Williams leaves behind, Darren wonders if the Eagles can follow the Giants' path, and in Did You Hear That?, Gronk puts on his dancing shoes.
MIAMI — How will Ricky Williams be remembered in South Florida?

Will the former Miami Dolphins tailback be remembered for his three 1,000-yard seasons, including an amazing 1,853 rushing yards in 2002? Or will Williams be remembered for his failed drug tests, abrupt retirement/return, and his always-wavering will to play football?

The Dolphins saw the best and worst of Williams during his eight-year tenure in Miami. It was a roller-coaster ride and the most years he spent with his three NFL teams.

Williams in his prime was a fantastic runner. Williams finished with 10,009 rushing yards in a career where he essentially missed three full seasons in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Those numbers could have been even higher had Williams always maintained his focus on football.

But focus and football never added up for Williams, and that is the part that rubs a lot of Dolphins fans the wrong way. Miami was invested in Williams — the Dolphins traded for him in 2002 — but football was never something he truly loved. It was too easy for Williams to walk away. He was much more interested in other things.

Following retirement and drug-related suspensions, Williams was never the same, consistent player when he returned in 2008. He had a one-year resurgence in 2009, rushing for 1,121 yards, because teams couldn't figure out Miami's innovative Wildcat offense. But Williams never rushed for more than 673 yards the rest of his career before retiring this season with the Baltimore Ravens.

Williams is a thoughtful and intelligent person and should do very well in the next phase of his life. But his football phase in the NFL will be viewed through a murky lens, especially in Miami.

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.
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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