Williams headed to CFL, signs with Argonauts

Updated: May 30, 2006, 1:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Ricky Williams has a new home in the CFL.

Oh, Canada!
Toronto Argonauts president and CEO Keith Pelley talks about bringing Ricky Williams to the CFL Insider

Suspended for the 2006 season by the NFL after a fourth violation of the league's drug policy, Williams signed a $240,000, one-year contract Sunday with the Toronto Argonauts -- a deal making him the highest-paid running back in the Canadian league.

The suspended Miami Dolphins running back attended his first practice with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts on Monday morning. He began the session by lining up with the other running backs and taking handoffs from the quarterbacks.

The Argonauts open preseason play this weekend and start their regular season at home against Hamilton June 17. The 18-game regular season runs through late October.

"It hasn't been too often that I've heard kind words about me and my situation. ... It's really an uplifting feeling to be in this kind of environment," Williams said at a news conference in Toronto, after team officials introduced him warmly.

Williams, a former Heisman Trophy winner, missed Miami's first four games last year following his third positive test, and lost an appeal over the fourth -- which carries a mandatory one-year ban. But the desire to continue playing and earning led him to Toronto, adding another chapter to the enigmatic player's resume.

Ricky Williams
AP Photo/Adrian WyldWilliams was all smiles Sunday when he was introduced by the Argonauts.

"I'm a very positive person," Williams said. "I understand that in life, when you go through adversity it only gives you an opportunity to make the best of the situation. So I'm happy to be here in Toronto, having a chance to further my career on the football field."

Earlier Sunday, before the signing was formally announced, Dolphins coach Nick Saban issued a statement saying the team left the decision about playing in the CFL up to Williams.

The Dolphins have supported Williams throughout the suspension, but insisted on assurances that he'd be allowed to return to the team in 2007 -- provided he's reinstated by the NFL.

"We expressed to Ricky our concerns about playing in Toronto in 2006," Saban said. "We are relying on assurances made by Ricky, his agent, the Toronto Argonauts, and the commissioner of the Canadian Football League that Ricky will return to the Dolphins in 2007.

"Based on these assurances and despite our concerns for Ricky playing in the CFL in 2006, we will leave it up to him to decide whether or not he will negotiate a contract to play for the Argonauts this year."

The holdup in getting a deal done was finding a way to get around the CFL's contract structure. For players coming from the states, the CFL wants contracts that are one year in length but have a one-year option. Dolphins coach Nick Saban was only willing to let Williams, who is suspended from the NFL this season because of violations of the league's drug policy, play one CFL season and then come back to the Dolphins.

Leigh Steinberg, William's agent, spent four days in Toronto trying to work on the language changes on the contract. A satisfactory agreement was reached Sunday morning, and Steinberg quickly completed the one-year, $240,000 deal.

Steinberg told The Miami Herald that he and Williams made a "promise" to the Dolphins that Williams would return to the NFL as soon as he could.

Williams will miss his second NFL season in the past three because of the fourth violation of the drug policy during his career. If he stays clean, he wants to play for the Dolphins in 2007 and the Dolphins definitely want him back. Williams did so well last year that Saban became a big supporter of the former University of Texas star.

The former first-round pick of the Saints won't be subject to drug testing by the CFL, a league that doesn't have a drug testing policy.

Williams still owes the Dolphins $8.6 million, but team may be willing to excuse a good portion of the money if he plays in the future. There has been talk Williams might do a book to raise some more cash this season.

He was only scheduled to make $585,000 for the Dolphins this year. His contract is tolled until next season because of the NFL suspension.

Williams -- who said he will wear No. 27 instead of No. 34 in the CFL -- thanked Saban and the Dolphins for allowing him to play in Toronto.

"I've learned to notice a good thing when it comes and not let it slip by. ... You obviously make money playing football than you do sitting at home."
Ricky Williams

"I don't think there are very many benefits to the Dolphins, and I think that speaks volumes for the kind of guy that Nick Saban is and the Dolphins organization," Williams said.

The 29-year-old Williams wasted little time in getting settled in Toronto. He was shown on the Rogers Center videoboard at the White Sox-Blue Jays game Sunday wearing an Argonauts hat and was introduced as the team's newest player.

"I've learned to notice a good thing when it comes and not let it slip by. ... You obviously make money playing football than you do sitting at home," Williams said.

"Under the circumstances, it's a positive outcome in terms of allowing him to be part of a very professionally run football environment," Steinberg told The Miami Herald. "[Toronto's] a strong organization in a beautiful city. The quality of the individuals who own, coach and run the club is exceptional, and this situation affords him the ability to be compensated. That will help him avoid the financial pressures of being away from the NFL."

Williams returned to the Dolphins last year and, playing alongside first-round draft pick Ronnie Brown, rushed for 743 yards -- averaging over 4 yards a carry -- for the Dolphins.

"I noticed that in the CFL they don't use the backs as a receiving threat," Argonauts linebacker Lee Woodall, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and a veteran of more than a decade in the NFL, told The Toronto Sun for a Sunday story. "But I'll tell you, if the Argos get Ricky, that's one of the factors you can put on your plate."

Toronto has won the Grey Cup -- the CFL championship -- 15 times, most recently in 2004. The Argonauts were 11-7 last season and are led by veteran quarterback Damon Allen, the brother of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen.

Damon Allen, who has more than two decades of CFL experience, threw for 5,082 yards, ran for 461 more and had 37 touchdowns last season while earning the league's Most Outstanding Player award.

Williams said he's been asked several times why he wanted to play in the CFL. He said his answer was always, "Why not?"

"I feel like I have a lot to offer," Williams said. "I have the right attitude. I'm looking forward to this year."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton was used in this report.