Head of union admits return in '04 unlikely

DEARBORN, Mich. -- If he had his druthers, NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw would have Ricky Williams back in the league this year, even though he conceded here Wednesday the erstwhile running back probably won't be back in 2004.

"Do we support him in his effort to come back?" said Upshaw, after meeting with a select group of owners about negotiations toward an extension of the collective bargaining agreement. "We have to support him. And we think he should be back. But, no, I don't think that it can happen this year."

NFLPA executive Stacey Robinson sat in on last week's meeting that included the attorneys for Williams and representatives of the NFL Management Council. Through him, Upshaw is certainly up to speed on the arguments that Williams is likely to make when he formally applies for immediate reinstatement.

Although attorney David Cornwell said last week that he planned to file an expeditious request seeking Williams' reinstatement, a league official said that, as of Tuesday, such paperwork had not yet been received.

It is believed that, if Williams attempted to un-retire this season, he would be subject to a one-year suspension. His best bet might be to come back in 2005, when he probably will still have to serve a four-game sanction for repeat violations of the NFL substance abuse policy.

"I think he belongs in the game," Upshaw said. "I think he just went off half-cocked or got some bad advice or something. But he should be playing football. The thing is, he had a pretty good deal on the table, one that would have gotten him out of the [drug] program, and he screwed that up."

Upshaw's comments were in reference to a deal in which Williams could have paid a fine of $650,000 this summer and essentially cleaned his slate in the program. It was after that, however, that Williams tested positive for a third time.

Upshaw said that he believed it was unfair when an arbitrator ruled that Williams must repay the Dolphins $8.6 million for defaulting on his contract. Some of that money came from his original signing bonus but much of it was from incentives earned for his performance in two seasons with Miami.

"How can they take money from you that you have already earned?" Upshaw said. "I told owners this morning in our meeting, I brought this up, that we've got to take a long look at some of the language being written into these contracts. They're putting things in there that just aren't right."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.