The leverage in tailback Ricky Williams's dispute with the Miami Dolphins may have shifted toward Williams, oddly enough, with last month's ruling by an arbitrator that he must repay the team $8.6 million because of his abrupt retirement just before training camp.
That's because Williams's associates say he can't afford to reimburse the Dolphins that amount and might be forced into bankruptcy if the ruling by arbitrator Richard Bloch stands. The NFL says that Williams would remain under contract to the Dolphins even if he enters bankruptcy proceedings. But two Miami-area bankruptcy attorneys said by telephone Wednesday they believe that Williams's contract would be voided by a bankruptcy court, making him a free agent. Williams's representatives are considering taking that approach, in hopes of either making him a free agent or gaining leverage in discussions with the Dolphins to reach a financial settlement and perhaps secure an agreement by the club to trade or release him.
One attorney, Glenn Moses of the Miami-based firm Genovese, Joblove & Battista, said it is "extremely unlikely'' that the Dolphins would be able to hold Williams to his contract in a bankruptcy proceeding because the court would want to maximize Williams's income by allowing him to negotiate a more lucrative free-agent contract. Another attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his firm has a connection to the Dolphins, was even more adamant, saying it would be "automatic'' under Florida's debtor-friendly bankruptcy laws that Williams's contract with the team would be voided.
"Florida has been called the 'deadbeat state,' '' the attorney said. "The Dolphins would be smart, under those circumstances, to reach an agreement with him. He'd get to keep his house. He may lose his second house. He may lose some furniture. He may lose his Rolex. He may lose his car. But bankruptcy would end his old contract.''
One person close to Williams said the Dolphins did not consider the ramifications of winning the arbitration case carefully enough before pursuing the $8.6 million.
"They won the case, but what does it matter if he can't pay?'' said the person, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the issues involved. "The league should not and probably does not want this matter to go to a bankruptcy court because of the precedent it could set.''
The timetable under which the Dolphins will have to make a decision about how to proceed will be determined when the league responds to a letter from an attorney for Williams seeking a clarification of his playing status. Most likely, he will be ruled ineligible to play until next season under provisions of the league's substance-abuse policy, although some in Williams's camp are holding out hope that he could be cleared to play after a four-game suspension or even immediately. The NFL's trading deadline is Oct. 19. If that deadline passes without Williams being traded, he could not be dealt until after the season.
It's unclear what the Dolphins could get for Williams if they opt to trade him, or how many teams would be interested. Williams has said he would like to play for the Oakland Raiders, and the league's renegade franchise indeed seems like a perfect fit for him. Norv Turner, his former offensive coordinator in Miami, is the Raiders' coach, and the team currently lacks a dominant runner.
The Dolphins, meantime, perhaps could replace Williams next season with Edgerrin James, the Indianapolis Colts tailback who attended the University of Miami. James is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring, and many people in the league believe that he will return to South Florida next season by signing with the Dolphins. Colts officials have said they can afford to re-sign both James and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, another prospective free agent. But that is questionable, especially given that the club already handed out a league-record $34.5-million signing bonus to quarterback Peyton Manning as part of the seven-year, $98-million contract extension he signed in March.
Road Teams Thriving
Road teams won nine of the 14 NFL games in Week 4 -- which, according to the league, is the highest winning percentage for visiting clubs in a week since they went 9-5 in Week 9 of the 2002 season. NFL road teams are 29-31 this season. If that .483 winning percentage holds up over the remainder of the season, it would be the second-highest mark for visiting clubs in a season since the 1970 merger. Road teams went 87-90-5 in 1972 for a winning percentage of .492, according to the league.
Asked about those statistics during a conference call this week, Minnesota Vikings Coach Mike Tice said: "I don't know what those numbers indicate. I think the league is so evenly matched right now. . . . I think the league is so even, there aren't really a whole lot of elite teams, if any. There might be a couple of teams -- the New Englands, the Phillys -- up there at the top that are pretty damn good. And everyone else is about equal.'' . . .
There have been 41 individual 100-yard rushing games in the season's first four weeks, at least five more than in the opening four weeks of any previous season since the merger. The previous high was 36 in 1998, according to the NFL. . . .
Tailback Priest Holmes has topped 5,000 rushing yards in his first 50 games with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is the fourth running back since '70 to surpass 5,000 yards in his first 50 games with his team, joining Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell and Terrell Davis. Dickerson got to 5,000 yards the quickest, reaching the milestone in his first 45 games with the Los Angeles Rams. . . .
The Houston Texans, in their third season of existence, have their first two-game winning streak. They have rebounded from an 0-2 beginning with consecutive victories heading into Sunday's game against the Vikings.
"Well, it's finally nice to not have to listen to [talk] about not winning two games in a row,'' Texans Coach Dom Capers said during a conference call this week.
Favre Healthy Enough
Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre said he's all right after being knocked out of last Sunday's loss to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field because of a concussion.
"I had a little bit of a headache [Sunday],'' Favre said during a weekly news conference Wednesday. "I had a little dizziness, tingling in my left foot and right arm. . . . The first five minutes [after he had his head slammed to the turf on a hit] were a little confusing, but up until the end I felt fine. . . . As I sat on the sideline, it was an out-of-body experience a little bit. . . . I just didn't feel [like] myself.''
Favre has failed to finish each of the Packers' last two games but is scheduled to extend his NFL record for consecutive regular season starts by a quarterback to 194 against Tennessee on Monday night. He didn't participate in Wednesday's practice but could practice today. Favre said it was the third concussion of his NFL career, and added: "That's not too bad, considering how often I've been hit.''
Do the concussions scare him?
"Not a bit,'' he said. "Maybe they should.'' . . .
Packers center Mike Flanagan is scheduled to undergo season-ending knee surgery within the next few days. He'll be replaced in the lineup by Grey Ruegamer. . . . Free agent defensive tackle Larry Smith, who played for Green Bay last season, worked out for the team and could be signed by next week. . . . Packers backup quarterback Doug Pederson was placed on the injured reserve list and is out for the season because of his rib and back injuries suffered Sunday. . . .
Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon is scheduled to undergo two sets of medical evaluations this week to help determine whether the vertebra he broke in his neck during a game against Tampa Bay last month will end his season. Gannon has been at his home in Minnesota but is scheduled to rejoin the Raiders this weekend in Indianapolis. . . . Raiders tailback Tyrone Wheatley told a Sacramento radio station Wednesday that he will be sidelined for two to four weeks because of a shoulder injury. . . .
Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden declined to say Wednesday whether he views his switch to youngster Chris Simms as the team's starting quarterback as long-term, or whether Brian Griese or demoted starter Brad Johnson will be Simms's backup. Simms takes over a winless club with a punchless offense for Sunday's game at New Orleans, but Gruden said there's no ideal time or place for a young quarterback to make his first NFL start.
"Not in this league,'' Gruden said during his news briefing Wednesday. "Dayton's not on our schedule, and they're pretty good right now from what I hear. No, there's no easy place to give a guy his first start. But be respectful of the opportunity that he's getting. He's paid a price. I give Chris Simms a great amount of credit. Every day since the season ended last year, he's been here [at the team's training facility], working on his game. He's a lot like many of the other young quarterbacks in this league. You see Kyle Boller, you see [Byron] Leftwich, you see [Ben] Roethlisberger getting their opportunities. This is his debut and we'll do everything we can to get him ready.'' . . . Gruden also indicated that Kenyatta Walker could overtake Todd Steussie for the Bucs' starting right tackle job. . . .
The Giants decided to retain veteran Steve Christie as their kicker this week even though he missed three field goal attempts, including 30- and 33-yarders, Sunday in Green Bay. . . .
The Carolina Panthers are hopeful that tailback Stephen Davis will return to their lineup Sunday at Denver. Davis has missed two games since undergoing surgery to repair torn knee cartilage. He practiced Wednesday and delivered an on-field pep talk to his offensive linemen. . . .
Arizona activated defensive tackle Wendell Bryant after he served a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. . . .
The Titans are hopeful that quarterback Steve McNair will practice today and play Monday. He sat out last Sunday's loss at San Diego after bruising his sternum the previous week and spending two nights in a hospital. . . . Tennessee signed Jason McAddley on Wednesday, one day after releasing fellow wide receiver Jake Schifino. . . . San Francisco middle linebacker Derek Smith will be sidelined about a month because of torn ankle ligaments suffered during last Sunday night's loss to St. Louis. . . . The Vikings at least temporarily demoted recently unproductive tackle Chris Hovan to their second-string defense, behind Steve Martin.