League not expected to act immediately

The long-awaited missive from erstwhile tailback Ricky Williams, officially seeking reinstatement to the league, arrived Monday at NFL offices.

But no one, not even Williams and his attorneys, expects the NFL to act on the request anytime soon.

In fact, league sources said that Williams has all but abandoned any hope of playing again in 2004, a pursuit that likely would have been futile anyway because of his repeat violations of the NFL substance abuse policy. Instead, those sources explained, attorney David Cornwell, who represents Williams and once worked for the NFL, will attempt to negotiate terms of the player's return for the 2005 season.

Williams abruptly retired in July just days before the start of the Miami Dolphins' training camp. His representatives met with league officials on Oct. 21 in Santa Monica, Calif., to clarify his status and explore potential scenarios for his return.

League officials said last week, at an owners meeting in Detroit, that they had yet to receive a formal request for reinstatement. "When something shows up, we'll deal with it," one NFL official said.

Even with the letter's arrival Monday, though, there will be no hurry to resolve Williams' future. It likely will take some time for Cornwell to broker an agreement under which the talented but enigmatic running back resumes his football career.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, told ESPN.com last week that he supported Williams' return but that it would not occur in 2004. Upshaw also said that Williams erred this spring in not accepting a "pretty good deal" that would have gotten him out of the substance abuse program.

The terms of that deal would have required Williams to pay a fine of $650,000, the sanction for his first two positive tests. Doing that would have earned him a clean slate. It is believed Williams failed a third test shortly thereafter.

Under terms of the substance abuse program, Williams, who by his own admission tested positive for marijuana on three different occasions, would have been suspended for a year had he attempted to un-retire in 2004. Any player who leaves the league while in the drug program, and returns within a year of his retirement, is deemed to have tested positive. A fourth positive test, which would have been the case for Williams, results in a suspension of one year.

So it appears the plan now is for Williams to sit out in 2004 -- and possibly, in a good-faith move, submit to league-administered testing in an effort to reinforce his intent to remain clean -- then play again next season. Where he would play is open to question, as Miami players have made it clear they do not want him back and Williams isn't apt to mend those fences.

Dolphins officials have said privately, though, that they regard Williams as a valuable commodity for trade purposes.

"We want to get something for the guy," one said.

The team also wants the $8.6 million it was awarded by an arbitrator, who ruled that Williams breached his contract and that certain default language in the deal was valid. Last week, the Dolphins filed suit seeking payment of the $8.6 million.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.