Ricky Williams's attorney met with NFL officials yesterday to discuss the former Miami Dolphins tailback's desire to return from his brief retirement.

Williams, who abruptly left the Dolphins just before training camp, would like to be cleared to play this season, but he is ineligible to do so under provisions of the league's substance-abuse policy. After yesterday's meeting with NFL leaders in the Los Angeles area, attorney David Cornwell said the league is awaiting a formal proposal on Williams's behalf.

"It was productive," Cornwell said in a telephone interview. "We had a full and frank discussion about all the circumstances of Ricky's desire to resume his career. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have such a meeting and for the manner in which it was conducted. We will make a formal proposal as soon as possible."

Williams did not attend the meeting because of a schedule conflict with a class he's taking. The league was represented at the meeting by Dennis Curran and Rapheal Prevot, attorneys for the NFL Management Council.

"They listened to what he had to say," Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations, said from New York. "There weren't going to be any decisions or agreements [yesterday]. There's really nothing more to be said at this point."

An NFL Players Association representative, Stacy Robinson, also attended the meeting. Cornwell said he believes the league is keeping an open mind and indicated his goal is to have Williams cleared to play "as soon as possible."

The league's substance-abuse policy calls for enrollment in a program for first-time violators; a fine for second violations; a four-game suspension for third violations; and a one-year suspension for fourth violations. The policy also prohibits players from returning to the league within a year of retiring, equating the practice to another violation.

Before retiring in July, Williams reportedly had failed a drug test for a third time and would have faced a four-game suspension had he played. That would mean any attempt to return this season would result in a one-year suspension. Williams's representatives, however, continue to dispute at least one of his positive tests. Aiello declined to characterize Williams's current playing status, citing the confidentiality of the substance-abuse program.

Cornwell dismissed recent reports that said he might question whether Williams's retirement was official because no papers were ever signed, and Aiello said the league regards Williams as retired because the Dolphins placed him on their reserve-retired list.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled recently that Williams owes the Dolphins about $8.6 million because of provisions in his contract requiring him to repay incentive money and a prorated portion of his original signing bonus from the New Orleans Saints if he refuses to play. People familiar with the case say that ruling would not be affected by a return to the NFL by Williams.

Cornwell declined to comment on the possibility that Williams could file for bankruptcy in an attempt to have his contract with the Dolphins voided, making him a free agent. Several Miami-area bankruptcy attorneys said recently that a Florida bankruptcy court likely would void Williams's contract with the Dolphins, allowing him to maximize his earning potential as a free agent. Though no such motions have been filed, the threat of a bankruptcy proceeding could provide Williams with leverage in dealing with the Dolphins and the NFL.

Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga reportedly was enraged by Williams's departure without warning, and the club likely will trade or release him when he's allowed to return to the league. The NFL's trading deadline for this season passed Tuesday, though, and trades cannot be made again until March.

* BEARS: Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye says he has a small tear in the ligament of his right ankle and won't play Sunday against Tampa Bay. He is listed as doubtful.

Ricky Williams, who left the Dolphins just before training camp and later was placed on the reserve-retired list, has expressed interest in returning to the NFL.