An arbitrator ruled yesterday that tailback Ricky Williams, who retired just before training camp, must repay the Miami Dolphins $8.6 million.

The Dolphins asked arbitrator Richard Bloch in a hearing Tuesday in the Miami area to force Williams to repay $5.3 million in incentives earned over the previous two seasons and $3.3 million in prorated bonus money paid to him by the New Orleans Saints in 1999. Williams's contract contained provisions forcing him to repay that money if he refused to play.

Attorneys for Williams and the NFL Players Association argued before Bloch that Williams shouldn't have to repay the money because the Dolphins had gotten Williams to play for below market value, and because the Dolphins shouldn't be entitled to bonus money that they hadn't paid to Williams in the first place.

People close to Williams recently mentioned the possibility that he might file for bankruptcy if he lost the case, and the Miami Herald reported in yesterday's editions that a bankruptcy proceeding perhaps could lead to Williams becoming a free agent. . . .

The NFL hopes to play the Dolphins' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Miami, as scheduled.

There has been consideration given to postponing the game until Monday or Tuesday because of the threat of Hurricane Jeanne hitting the area over the weekend. But league officials are monitoring the hurricane's projected path and are hopeful the game can be played as scheduled. The Steelers, at the league's request, agreed to travel to south Florida yesterday instead of today.

The league moved the Dolphins' season-opening game against the Tennessee Titans to a Saturday because of Hurricane Ivan.

* PACKERS: Quarterback Tim Couch filed a grievance against Green Bay, alleging that the club shouldn't have been allowed to release him just before the season because he was injured. Couch was plagued by a sore arm.

The Packers paid Couch a signing bonus, reportedly $625,000, but were not obligated to pay his reported $625,000 salary for the season after he was released. Indianapolis Colts officials say they would be interested in signing Couch as their backup quarterback when he's healthy.

* CHIEFS: Kansas City is preparing to play without tailback Priest Holmes, who has a sprained ankle.

* COLTS: Tailback Edgerrin James is expected to play despite a strained hamstring but could split carries with Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro.

* FALCONS: Tailback Warrick Dunn likely will play despite a sprained knee.

Kansas City Chiefs tailback Priest Holmes, who has a sprained ankle, might not play tomorrow.