This could be the week in which the football future of erstwhile Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams, who faces a year-long suspension from the league over allegations of a fourth violation of the substance abuse policy, is determined.
League officials have offered no indication of when a resolution might come on Williams' appeal earlier this month of the pending suspension. But in the April 10 appeals hearing, presided over by NFL counsel Jeffrey Pash, the Dolphins requested an expedited decision -- preferably before the draft. Miami officials would like to approach the draft this coming weekend with a clear picture of their tailback situation.
Decisions on such appeals can often take months, but the league might view the Williams situation and the proximity to the draft as a mitigating circumstance and make a determination this week. By policy, the league does not comment on matters involving its substance abuse policy, including appeals, until a resolution is reached.
"I'm on the team right now," Williams, attending a Friday evening charity function, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "What's going to happen, I really can't say. I'm a spiritual person, so I believe that whatever happens is God's will. Whatever it is, I'll make the best of this, and life goes on."
According to reports, Williams tested positive, likely in December, toward the end of the 2005 season, for a substance banned by the league. In at least three other violations, Williams tested positive for marijuana.
In the lengthy appeals hearing, it is believed that attorney David Cornwell, who represented Williams, claimed that the positive test was inconsistent with his client's behavior over the past year. A former league counsel, Cornwell helped craft the NFL's substance abuse guidelines, is eminently familiar with the policy and has represented many players in the past in the appeals process.
One of the witnesses who testified in support of Williams in the appeal was Dolphins coach Nick Saban.
Unless Williams' camp succeeds in persuading the league that there were extenuating circumstances in the latest positive test, and that a year-long suspension is undeserved, Williams faces his second lengthy exile in three seasons. He missed the entire 2004 season when he abruptly retired, only days before the start of training camp that summer, following his third violation of the substance abuse policy.
Were he to be suspended for the entire 2006 season, Williams could apply for reinstatement to the league after one year. But were he to be reinstated in 2007, Williams would return as a 30-year-old running back who had appeared in just 12 games in three years.
Life is difficult enough for a running back in the NFL once he turns 30. It would be especially difficult for Williams, given the rust he would have accumulated. And there are no guarantees, if Williams is banished for 2006, that he would even want to resume his career when eligible for reinstatement.
The four-time 1,000-yard rusher returned to the Dolphins in 2005, served a four-game suspension for his past drug-related offenses, and forfeited an additional four game checks as part of the sanctions against him. He then ran for 743 yards and six touchdowns while serving as the backup to rookie Ronnie Brown, the team's first-round pick. Williams played in 12 games and started three of them.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that Williams, who spent much of the offseason in India on a yoga retreat, appeared to "have lost a considerable amount of bulk." The paper reported that, when asked what he will do if his appeal is denied, Williams replied: "You live life in the moment. To say what something was in the past, or what will be in the future, is just a waste of time."
For his career, Williams, a first-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints who was traded to Miami in 2002, has rushed for 7,097 yards and 47 touchdowns on 1,757 carries. The former University of Texas star has appeared in 82 games and started 73 times.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.