DAVIE, Fla. -- Tailback Ricky Williams and the Miami Dolphins say the first couple days of their reunion are going about as well as could have been expected.
Williams participated in this morning's opening practice of training camp with the Dolphins, the team he abandoned last season by telling former coach Dave Wannstedt just before camp began last summer that he was retiring. The club's new coach, Nick Saban, smoothed over the relationship, and Williams apologized when he addressed his teammates Sunday after reporting to camp.
Following this morning's practice, Williams made that apology public.
"I made the decision [to retire] because there were some things about life I wanted to explore outside of football," Williams said during a news conference at the Dolphins' practice facility. " ..... I'm very regretful that people were hurt in the process of me doing that. ..... I offer an apology to all of the people who were negatively hurt by my decision."
Williams, however, said he enjoyed his year away from football and used it to learn about himself, and acknowledged that he has returned to the sport in part because of the $8.6 million judgment that the Dolphins secured against him for breach of contract.
"I can't say it didn't play into my decision," Williams said.
Several Dolphins players said they weren't maintaining any grudges against Williams, and Williams said the reception that he received from his teammates was "surprisingly positive."
Said Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas: "At first, it was a little uncomfortable ..... [but] he was sincere. He was honest. He wasn't saying it just to say it. ..... It takes time, but we're taking his word. He's a good guy. He's not a bad guy. That wasn't the main reason [for the club's 4-12 record last season]. So many things piled up. It was a circus last year."
During his locker-room speech to his teammates Sunday, Williams said, he told them he was committed to remaining with the club and pledged to do his best to limit the distractions created by the media attention on his return.
"I didn't know so many people would come up to me and give me a hug and tell me they were happy to have me back," Williams said. " ..... I'm just here to work."
Saban said he wasn't dwelling on Williams's transgressions.
"The focus for me ..... is from now on," the coach said. " ..... What's happened in the past is in the past."
Agent Leigh Steinberg was on hand. Williams's representatives and the Dolphins are postponing discussions on some of the problematic issues relating to Williams's return to the team.
Two major financial issues remain unresolved -- the $8.6 million judgment, and a clause in Williams's contract that gives the club the right to reduce his salary from $3.7 million to $540,000 for the upcoming season because of his retirement.
Steinberg and the Dolphins officials plan to try to resolve those matters in the coming weeks. The two sides could negotiate a settlement of the $8.6 million judgment, and might attempt to work out a compromise on Williams's income by agreeing to a package of incentives to go with a revised salary. Those in Williams's camp seem to be taking the approach that the best thing for now is to preserve the peace and trust that the Dolphins won't take a hard-line stance on negotiations as the season nears.
"We're taking this process on a step-by-step basis," Steinberg said. "The first step, miraculously, is that Ricky is here. The first step is to allow him to be part of the team and allow the healing process to begin. Today was an important step in that. ..... Ricky's teammates were shaking his hand, greeting him. [But] ultimate acceptance -- ultimate trust -- comes in the long term."
Brown, Other Top Picks Await Smith Deal
The Dolphins' other prominent tailback, rookie Ronnie Brown, wasn't on hand Sunday and seems likely to miss most or all of the opening week of camp.
Brown was selected with the second overall pick in the NFL draft in April and has not signed a contract. It's unlikely that Brown and his agent, Todd France, will agree to a deal before seeing what sort of contract the draft's top overall choice, quarterback Alex Smith, signs with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers' negotiator, Paraag Marathe, and Smith's agent, Tom Condon, have the basic parameters of an agreement in place and are scrambling to attempt to apply the finishing touches to a deal before the club is scheduled to report to camp Friday.
Condon negotiated the six-year, $45 million contract that got the top overall pick in last year's draft, quarterback Eli Manning, to the New York Giants' camp on time. Condon showed up at the Giants' camp a few days before the players were scheduled to report, and negotiated virtually around the clock with Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi until the deal was done. Manning's deal contained $20 million in bonus money, plus $9 million in incentives that could push its overall value to $54 million.
The 49ers now seem willing to give Smith a contract more lucrative than Manning's after once maintaining that Smith should sign for less money. The deal will be wildly complex because of the salary-cap constraints faced by Condon and Marathe. Because the sport's labor deal between the league and its players has not been extended yet, Smith's signing bonus can be prorated over only the next five seasons for salary-cap accounting purposes. Manning's signing bonus was spread over six seasons. But the 49ers must squeeze the contracts of Smith and their other draft picks beneath their rookie-pool limit (each team has a salary cap for its rookies within the overall salary cap). So, even if the 49ers agree that Smith should receive more money than Manning, they and Condon must be creative in finding mechanisms to fit the deal into the available salary-cap room.
As of this morning, no first-round picks and only four second-round selections league-wide had agreed to contracts.
Law Visits Lions Again
Free-agent cornerback Ty Law is scheduled to undergo a physical and work out for Detroit Lions officials today. The four-time Pro Bowl selection, released by the New England Patriots in a February salary-cap maneuver, seems to be getting close to being healthy enough to sign with a team as he works his way back from the foot injury that caused him to miss the second half of last season.