Troubled teams often make reckless moves and, with the Miami Dolphins desperate to fill their yawning hole at tailback, general manager Rick Spielman might now be forced to consider using defensive end Adewale Ogunleye as trade bait in his effort to replace the abruptly retired Ricky Williams.
The unsigned Ogunleye, coming off a breakthrough 2003 season in which he led the AFC in sacks, is an attractive bargaining chip who was quietly courted by several teams before the draft. Spielman could conceivably approach some of those teams, notably Minnesota and Chicago, about a deal. Both the Bears and Vikings, with solid tailback depth, could offer a solution to the Dolphins' need for a proven runner.
But in a twist nearly as mind-numbing as Williams' retirement, the agent for Ogunleye said Sunday that he now is more confident than at any time in recent months that his client will strike a deal that keeps him with the Dolphins.
"I don't have any [contract] proposals to back it up and, from a numbers standpoint, we haven't moved much from where we were [weeks ago]," agent Drew Rosenhaus said. "But I sense more urgency from both sides to get something done. You're right, in that the Ricky Williams development improves Adewale's situation, but it doesn't necessarily mean a trade."
Indeed, the Dolphins organization could react to Williams' retirement by deciding to fill from within or sign a veteran free agent, and simply try to compensate in part for his exit by getting better on the defensive side of the ball. But the Dolphins statistically rated No. 10 in overall defense in 2003 and, even by retaining Ogunleye, might not get significantly better than that this season.
A restricted free agent, Ogunleye was granted the "high level" qualifying offer of $1.824 million by the Dolphins in February, a move that provided the team the right to match any offer he receives from another team. From the outset, however, Ogunleye has been seeking a long-term deal commensurate to those signed by other high-profile ends. When he did not sign the Miami qualifying offer by mid-April, the Dolphins, per their rights in the collective bargaining agreement, reduced their offer to $455,000.
That's where things have remained and, until Sunday and the new-found optimism that Rosenhaus expressed, the agent had been employing the term "impasse" to describe the state of negotiations.
Of course, the Dolphins could sign Ogunleye to a long-term deal, and then trade him for tailback help. But as of Sunday afternoon, Spielman had not contacted Rosenhaus about resuming negotiations. Nor had he granted Rosenhaus permission to discuss a contract with another team as a precursor to a trade.
Ogunleye, 26, began to mature as a player in 2002, when he notched 9½ sacks, and then followed up that performance with 15 sacks last season. Some critics have contended he lacks the upfield explosiveness and closing speed of most pure pass rushers, but his sack numbers suggest he knows how to attack the pocket.
Chicago and Minnesota flirted with either signing him to an offer sheet or trading for Ogunleye earlier in the spring and both would be interested again if the Dolphins get desperate enough to deal the young end.
The Bears could part with former rookie of the year Anthony Thomas, who is still only 26, and has been ousted from his starting job by the free agent acquisition of Thomas Jones. The Vikings have a bevy of talented young backs but none has the kind of inside running power that Williams brought to the Miami offense.
Said Rosenhaus: "At this point, we're just spectators, but very interested spectators, in the Ricky Williams story. One way or another, I'm guessing, it will mean something for Adewale's future. Either directly or indirectly, you would think, he's going to play some role in how the Dolphins react."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.