The Miami Dolphins' series of offseason headaches turned into a crisis this weekend when star running back Ricky Williams told Coach Dave Wannstedt he is retiring -- a week before training camp.
Despite attempts by friends and colleagues to talk him out of quitting, Williams said Saturday he was overjoyed by his decision, one that has been months in the making.
"You can't understand how free I feel," Williams said before boarding a plane in Hawaii and heading to Asia to begin several months of travel. Williams, 27, has played five years in the NFL, including the first three with New Orleans. He said he plans to file his retirement papers with the NFL on Monday or Tuesday.
Williams, who was scheduled to earn approximately $3.5 million this season, told Wannstedt of his decision Friday and said Wannstedt tried a variety of ways to persuade him to reconsider. Wannstedt, who approved the 2002 trade with New Orleans to acquire Williams for two first-round picks, went so far as to say if Williams were his son, he would tell him to play.
Williams retorted that Wannstedt would want his son to do whatever made him happy. Williams said he was "hurt" by their conversation.
"I have no comment," Wannstedt said when asked about Williams's retiring. "Players report Friday. Right now, it's a 10-day dead period. We'll get everybody started on Friday."
When asked about the conversation he had Friday with Williams, Wannstedt responded, "We've had a conversation, but again, I have no comment."
Asked if there was any chance he could change his mind, Williams said, "No, none." He certainly doesn't appear to be wavering. 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. He said anyone who knows him shouldn't be terribly surprised.
Williams said his failed marijuana tests had a minor influence on his decision to retire, but 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.
The Dolphins will hold their first practices of training camp next Saturday.
Williams said he talked to Wannstedt twice Friday. The coach urged Williams to sleep on his decision.
"He's just hoping I change my mind. But I have considered everything about this," Williams said. "I always try to do the right thing, always. My heart tells me, 'Don't be controlled,' " he said. Asked what he planned to do after finishing his travels, Williams said he has no plans.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do. Who knows? I just know it's going to be fun," he said.
There figures to be a decidedly different reaction from the Dolphins, who face this season without their best offensive player.
Travis Minor becomes the obvious candidate to succeed Williams in the short term, but Minor has never handled the type of workload Williams has received the past two years. Aside from Minor, the team has some promising players in Leonard Henry and Fred Russell and likely would use several running backs to fill Williams's role.
Williams's timing couldn't have been worse for the Dolphins. Earlier this week, free agent running backs Antowain Smith and Eddie George signed with Tennessee and Dallas, respectively.
Williams's stunning decision comes after he produced the top two rushing seasons in team history and in his career the past two years. He set a team record with an NFL-leading 1,853 yards rushing in 2002. He followed that with 1,372 yards last season.
In May, Williams was fined four weeks' pay because of a second positive drug test late last season. He appealed the fine and said he has yet to hear the result, but the issue appears moot at this point.
Williams's retirement trumps all of that. He is the best running back the team has had since Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, giving fans hope of a return to the championship days of the 1970s.
All of that apparently is over.
Most people encouraged Williams to continue playing for the money so he can support his three young children. But Williams, who has talked in the past about returning to college to get a postgraduate degree in psychology, dismissed the need for money, even for his children.
"I've had no money before," he said. "People are worried about the future of my children, but a child doesn't need much to be happy -- needs food, a change of clothes and for you to pay attention to him. A bottle of baby food costs 79 cents. I have that much."