Letter asks Williams to return or pay up

Updated: August 20, 2004, 7:55 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Miami Dolphins have asked running back Ricky Williams to return $8.6 million they say the running back owes the team because he has decided to retire.

The request and the amount were confirmed Friday by a league source, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

It was first reported in Friday's editions of The Miami Herald.

Williams shocked the Dolphins by announcing just before the start of training camp that he was retiring at age 27 after five seasons in the league, the last two with Miami. It was only one blow to the team, which has been hurt by a holdout by Adewale Ogunleye, last season's AFC sacks leader, and a season-ending injury to wide receiver David Boston, its main offseason acquisition.

The source said Williams had received a letter from the team asking for money that was included in various bonuses, including the signing bonus he received when he originally was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphins had been hinting they would ask for the money but only recently made the request formal in a letter to the player and his agent, Leigh Steinberg.

The Dolphins and Steinberg both declined comment.

NFL Players Association attorney Richard Berthelsen told the Herald he was unaware that such letters had been sent.

On July 29, Berthelsen told the Herald, "It's our position that these penalty clauses that teams have put into contracts are unenforceable, depending on state law." Berthelsen also said the Players Association would likely file a grievance if the team pursued action against Williams.

Because Williams formally filed retirement papers with the NFL three weeks ago, he would not be able to play this season if he changes his mind.

Because Williams was in the league's substance abuse program, he can't return for one year without penalty. Williams has acknowledged testing positive for marijuana three times and league officials have said his filing for retirement counts as a fourth failed test, which would result in a year's suspension.

If he decides to return next year, he would face a four-game suspension -- the penalty for three failed tests.

Because of penalty clauses included when Williams' contract was reworked two years ago, the team could try to force him to return $5.3 million in incentive money as well as $3.3 million of the $8.8 million signing bonus Williams received when he joined the Saints in 1999.

Williams was to earn at least $3.6 million this year, with incentives possibly pushing that total as high as $6 million.

Though Williams has held out the possibility of returning to football next season, perhaps with the Oakland Raiders, he has insisted he will not return this year.

Williams rushed for 3,225 yards in two seasons with Miami after being obtained in a trade with New Orleans. He led the league in 2002 with 1,853 yards rushing and broke nine team records. Last season, he ran for 1,372 yards.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.