Had Williams informed the Dolphins earlier this week of his desire to quit, they could have bid for former Titans halfback Eddie George and topped the $2.2 million the Cowboys will pay him this season. Like Williams, George is a physical running back who fits Miami's style of running.
Once the Titans lost George, they immediately signed Antowain Smith, the best back available and another possibility for the Dolphins, had they known sooner.
On Sunday morning, the Dolphins were scrambling. Former Jaguars and Texans halfback Stacey Mack is a likely target. The Dolphins called former Rams and Redskins running back Trung Canidate, who is trying to decide whether to have foot surgery, which could sideline him most of the season.
Mack would be the most likely target. Though he's started only 18 games in five seasons, the 29-year-old is a 241-pounder who can hit the middle of the hole. He gained 877 yards filling in for injured Fred Taylor in 2001.
Last year, Mack signed a one-year deal to be the Texans' starter but was beaten out by Domanick Davis. Mack finished with only 253 yards on 93 carries, but this was a second-year expansion team with a young offensive line.
The problem facing the Dolphins is that they are a playoff contender dependent on great play from their running back. Miami geared everything around Ricky Williams.
He rushed a league-high 392 times and was the team's second leading receiver with 50 catches. Since coming to the Dolphins, Williams has been the most used back in the NFL, being the busiest ball carrier for two consecutive seasons.
Because Williams is only 27, the Dolphins didn't plan for his not being available. They did sign Sammy Morris from the Bills as a backup. Now, Morris and Travis Minor will compete for the starting job unless the Dolphins sign a back from the street.
The Dolphins' best approach, though, is to try to talk Williams out of retirement or force his hand financially.
When the Dolphins acquired Williams in a trade from the Saints, they did pick up the contract and the right to sue him if he quits early. The Saints gave him an initial signing bonus of $8.843 million, and even though the Dolphins didn't have to pay the Saints for a portion of the bonus, they do have the ability to sue for him to fulfill the contract.
If successful, the Dolphins would get a $3.3 million repayment for failure to perform. Williams is signed through 2006 and would owe the Dolphins three years.
Unfortunately for coach Dave Wannstedt, it would take time to get Williams to reconsider and it's more likely Williams won't change his mind.
In the meantime, the Dolphins have to make the best out of a bad situation.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.