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Saturday, July 24, 2004
Updated: July 25, 8:31 PM ET
Pre-camp decision stuns Dolphins

ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams has told the team he plans to retire after just five NFL seasons.

  Insider's Randy Mueller, who as GM of the Saints traded Ricky Williams to the Dolphins, isn't shocked by Ricky's decision to walk away from the game, citing a history of "off-the-wall decisions."
  • Mueller: Ricky predictably unpredictable
  • Williams told the team this week of his decision, a team source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday.

    "He wants to get on with his life, wants to move on to bigger and better things," Miami Herald reporter and ESPN commentator Dan Le Batard told SportsCenter.

    According to the Herald's report, Williams wants to travel the world and is tired of the demands and restraints of a professional football career.

    "I just don't want to be in this business anymore," Williams told the paper. "I was never strong enough to not play football, but I'm strong enough now. I've considered everything about this. Everyone has thrown every possible scenario at me about why I shouldn't do this, but they're in denial. I'm happy with my decision.

    "I'm finally free. I can't remember ever being this happy."

    He said he has already told his mother, Sandy; his agent, Leigh Steinberg; backup running back Travis Minor; and friends and family of his decision.

    According to Le Batard, the Dolphins are stunned by the news and members of the organization are still trying to talk Williams out of his decision, one the Herald says should be finalized this week when Williams faxes his retirement papers to the league.

    "I was completely surprised," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said Sunday of Williams' retirement. "My main thought process was to try to get Ricky to come back here, sit down, talk about some things and see if we can get this thing back on track. He obviously chose to go another direction."

    Listening to Williams, who plans to travel to Asia without a return ticket, the prospect of his returning to the team appears unlikely.

    "I have no idea what I'm going to do," he told the Herald. "Who knows? I just know it is going to be fun. Going to school again. Going to travel for the next six months. I'm halfway intelligent. I'll figure something out. I don't feel like I have to explain myself to anyone. All I end up doing anyway is giving rebuttals, and it is boring. I don't want to do it anymore. That's it. I don't want to do this anymore. If people really care about me, that would be enough for them."

    Long ambivalent about life in the spotlight, he said there's no chance he'll change his mind. But his agent, Leigh Steinberg, held out the possibility that the retirement could be temporary.

    Williams might be back in South Florida by the end of the week, Steinberg said.

    "Right now he seems at peace with his decision and intends to retire," Steinberg said. "Whether it ends up being short term or long term, we'll have to see."

    His stunning retirement ends one of the most unusual NFL careers in recent history. The Saints traded away almost an entire draft to make him their first-round choice in 1999, the fifth pick overall. To spice up his arrival, the Heisman winner out of the University of Texas wore a wedding dress for photo ops with the coach who engineered the trade -- former Saints coach Mike Ditka.

    Unfortunately for Williams, New Orleans became a personal hell. He developed a personality disorder that required medication and often wore his helmet during interviews. He rushed for only 884 and 1,000 yards during the first two seasons with the Saints. After Williams' 1,245-yard season in 2001, former Saints general manager Randy Mueller traded him to the Dolphins for two first-round picks and a swap of fourths in 2002.

    Ditka said Sunday he hasn't spoken with Williams in about six months and was shocked by the retirement news.

    "I'd love to talk to him and try to talk him out of it," Ditka said from Chicago. "It seems kind of foolish to me, but I don't know what's on his mind. You're just destroying a great career. He's a talent. To let that all go to waste doesn't make a lot of sense"

    In Miami, his career flourished. He trained harder, cutting his weight from 250 pounds to 228. In 2002, Williams led the NFL with 1,853 yards and was named to his first (and only) Pro Bowl. Last season, Williams rushed for 1,372 yards on 392 attempts, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Over Williams' two years in Miami, Wannstedt made him the focal point of his offense, rushing him 775 times -- the most carries in the NFL.

    For his career, Williams rushed for 1,000 or more yards in four of his five NFL seasons, totaling 6,354 yards on 1,589 carries and 41 touchdowns. Williams also had 1,806 receiving yards on 229 catches.

    FANTASY FOCUS...

    A year ago, Williams was the consensus first pick in FFL leagues, but a somewhat disappointing season earned him a No. 9 finish among running backs. So far this season, owners have been cautious on the overworked Williams, and he was, on average, being selected eighth in current drafts. Still, even at eight, he was a sure first-round pick and losing him for nothing -- if he indeed does not play; don't drop him, yet -- is difficult to overcome. ...
  • Read the entire Williams Draft Spin...
  • Complete Draft Kit
  • Williams was scheduled to make $3.735 million in a contract set to expire in 2006. But it's not the first time he has walked away from a fortune. With the Saints, he signed an unusual contract that paid him more than $10 million in signing bonus in 1999, but he was willing to accept minimum salaries for the remainder of the deal, hoping to make up the difference in incentives.

    Financially, the deal was a disaster. The Saints challenged him to be the most productive back in NFL history to make those incentives. To hit the big dollars, Williams would have had to gain more than 6,400 yards in his first four seasons. Despite his productivity, Williams fell short of those numbers in five seasons.

    This is also not the first time Williams skipped off to a foreign country on short notice. During one offseason in Miami, Williams went on a European vacation without informing Saints management. They were left scrambling to try to find him.

    Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 while at Texas and was considered one of the greatest college backs in history. Williams seemed to enjoy the college game more than that of the NFL.

    But Wannstedt said the retirement was a shock in part because Williams stayed in great shape during the offseason, participated in every practice and attended a team meeting as recently as June 22. Most teammates apparently had no clue about his retirement plan.

    "This," defensive end Jason Taylor said, "is certainly unexpected."

    Even Steinberg was stunned. The agent said Williams first told him he was seriously considering retirement Wednesday.

    "What a mind boggle," Steinberg said. "He said he simply didn't feel the passion and motivation that is a prerequisite for playing his position."

    The Dolphins might have been tipped off that this might be an unusual season for Williams when management learned through a newspaper story that Williams had failed a drug test and was being docked four games' pay this season.

    In May, three South Florida newspapers reported that Williams tested positive for marijuana and faced a fine of at least $650,000 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for a second time since joining the Dolphins. The Palm Beach Post first reported the story on its Web site.

    But his attorney, Gary Ostrow, told The Associated Press: "As far as I'm concerned, there is no violation." Ostrow also said a ruling on Williams' appeal was pending.

    But Williams told the Herald he has gotten around drug tests in the past by taking a special liquid players all over the league consume to avoid detection.

    "I don't know really what he was talking about," Wannstedt said. He declined further comment on the subject.

    Williams told the Herald that his failed marijuana tests had a minor influence on his decision to retire but that that issue was only one of many factors. It didn't cause him to retire, he said, as much as reinforce his reasons for wanting to do so.

    It's just like Williams to go against the grain: He was never the stereotypical football player, and his passions include shopping, photography and film.

    In 2001 he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a condition contributing to his extreme shyness, and in New Orleans he often conducted interviews while wearing his helmet. He professed to be happy during his two seasons with Miami, but the trip to Australia may have whetted his appetite for more travel, and he said it changed his perspective on what's important.

    He's not the first running back to retire at or near his peak. His friend Jim Brown quit at 30, Barry Sanders retired at 31 and Robert Smith quit at 28.

    Nonetheless, his decision was deflating for South Florida sports fans, who had been buzzing about the Miami Heat's acquisition last week of Shaquille O'Neal.

    For the Dolphins, Williams' departure is the latest setback in an abysmal offseason. It included an odd organizational reshuffling with the hiring of former quarterback Dan Marino, who resigned as vice president 22 days later.

    Now, due to the timing of Williams' retirement, the Dolphins head into training camp with few options for filling the vacancy at running back. Eddie George, who might have been a possibility, signed Friday with the Dallas Cowboys. For the moment the job belongs to three-year backup Travis Minor, who has yet to start an NFL game.

    Officials at Texas anticipate that Williams will return to Austin to earn his degree in education and pursue work with children. While contemplating retirement, he talked with Longhorns coach Mack Brown.

    "When he asked me how I would feel about his decision, I told him I would like him even if he had never played football," Brown said. "Giving up something that you love to do is never an easy choice, and I respect Ricky for the thought that he has put into this. This is something he has considered for a long time."

    Information from ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.