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Williams' agent confident
Convinced Ricky will play for Argos By DAN RALPH
Ricky to find out today
The Last Word
This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot
Ricky wined, dined
Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams was suspended for the 2006 season by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy for the fourth time. (AP File Photo/Scott Audette)
TORONTO (CP) - It appears to be only a matter of time before Ricky Williams joins the Toronto Argonauts.
Leigh Steinberg, Williams's agent, said Saturday his client hasn't yet received permission from the Miami Dolphins to play in the CFL this season. However, Steinberg fully expects the Dolphins to give the former Heisman Trophy winner their blessing to suit up for the Argos in 2006.
"Although I am loathe to say that because it could put some pressure on the Dolphins, I would be incredibly surprised and disappointed if it didn't happen," Steinberg said when asked whether Williams's joining the Argos was a certainty. "I assume it will happen but I'm being very careful to be very delicate here.
"I have a terrific relationship with the Dolphins and (Miami head coach) Nick Saban has been terrific in his support of Ricky."
Williams was recently suspended by the NFL for the entire 2006 season after a fourth positive drug test. He missed Miami's first four games last year following his third positive test.
Williams and Steinberg have been in Toronto for the past four days - Williams arrived on his own three days earlier - and have met with Argos ownership and president Keith Pelley. However, the two sides have gone as far as they can until the Dolphins give their blessing - Williams is still under contract with Miami for the next two seasons.
The Dolphins' approval could take a few more days because of Monday's Memorial Day holiday in the United States.
Steinberg, too, is on the go. He was scheduled to leave Toronto later Saturday for a 10-day stay in Ireland and England. Williams was to remain in Toronto.
Once the Dolphins grant their permission, Steinberg said it won't take long for Williams to sign with Toronto.
"Negotiating a one-year contract in the CFL is not heavy lifting," he said. "If we can get this release, I would imagine it would take one hour to put this deal together."
That's good, considering the Argos opened training camp a week ago and are scheduled to play their first exhibition game Friday night.
Williams won't come cheaply, though. He will reportedly earn around $250,000 with Toronto, which would easily make him the highest-paid running back in the league.
Williams has reportedly made just $285,000 US since the end of the 2003 season. He abruptly retired prior to the 2004 campaign but returned to play last year after a judge ordered he repay Miami $8.6 million in bonus money for breaching his NFL contract. The Dolphins reduced that amount to $5.4 million.
He also is paying support for three children he's had with three different women - and a fourth is on the way.
Saban has publicly stated his concerns of Williams sustaining a career-threatening injury in the CFL, but the Dolphins' main bone of contention surrounds player contracts in Canada. The standard CFL
deal is for one year, with the club holding the option on a second season.
If Williams signed such a deal with Toronto, he would have to clear waivers in the CFL after the 2006 season in order to return to the NFL.
But if another Canadian team claimed Williams, he'd have to go there and play out the 2007 season.
According to media, CFL commissioner Tom Wright has ruled Williams could return to Miami after the 2006 season by using the Canadian league's 45-day window that allows its option-year players to sign NFL deals.
As per the CFL's working agreement with the NFL, players in Canada entering their option year have between Jan. 1 and mid-February to sign with NFL clubs. Although Williams's NFL suspension runs through April 2007 - seemingly disqualifying him for the 45-day window to return to Miami - Wright's intervention would appear to have resolved that issue.
Once Williams completes his NFL suspension, he can apply for reinstatement. If successful, he would be clear to return to the Dolphins for the 2007 season.
"Nick Saban wants to make it crystal clear that Ricky returns there after this year," Steinberg said. "Miami wants it absolutely air tight that they won't lose this player."
Toronto placed Williams on its negotiation list last month after he was suspended, and has been speaking with both Steinberg and the Dolphins about securing permission to sign the talented running back ever since.
The Argos have absorbed some criticism for their pursuit of Williams, with some questioning how Toronto can market its players as role models for youth while trying to sign a high-profile star athlete who has repeatedly violated the NFL's substance abuse policy.
"The substance Ricky recently tested positive for was not marijuana and Ricky has not done marijuana for the last year and a half," Steinberg said. "The Ricky Williams who was using marijuana is not the same Ricky Williams today.
"He is actually a positive role model today. This is not a case where you have a druggie fleeing from another league. What we want to do is make productive use of the time he has available."
If Williams signs with Toronto, he will become the second suspended NFL player to come to the CFL this off-season. Two weeks ago, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed running back Onterrio Smith, who missed all of last season with the Minnesota Vikings after being suspended by the NFL for a violation of its substance abuse policy.
Unlike Williams, Smith is not currently under contract with an NFL squad.
Williams, 29, rushed for 743 yards last year and averaged over four yards per carry with Miami despite missing the club's first four games.
"If they (Argos) give Ricky enough carries he will be fun to watch," Steinberg said. "In the fourth quarter of games he just explodes because his M.O. is he just wears and grinds defensive players down.
"It could be exciting to see him run on the wider field."
Williams wouldn't be the first former NFL first-round draft pick to land in Toronto after running into trouble with the NFL. The Argos' roster also includes offensive tackle Bernard Williams and receiver R.
Jay Soward, players who had their careers south of the border cut short due to violations of the league's substance abuse policy.
Williams was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994 while the Jacksonville Jaguars made Soward their first-round selection in 2000.
The five-foot-10, 220-pound Williams has appeared in 82 career NFL games (73 as a starter) and rushed for 7,097 yards on 1,757 carries (four-yard average) with 47 touchdowns. He has also had 35 career fumbles.
But while Williams has excelled as a runner, he hasn't been much of a receiver as a pro. He has 246 career receptions for 1,899 yards (7.7-yards per catch) with four touchdowns. In Canadian football, with the abundance of passing, an offence needs its running backs to be able to catch as well as run.
Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 at the University of Texas, prompting then New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka to deal all of his six draft picks to select Williams in the '99 NFL draft. The Saints traded Williams to Miami three years later. Williams set club records for rushing yards (1,853) and touchdowns (16) in 2002 but two seasons later shocked the NFL when he abruptly decided to retire prior to training camp.