Judge upholds ruling $8.6M must be repaid

Miami Dolphins: An arbitration ruling that ordered Ricky Williams
to repay the Miami Dolphins $8.6 million was upheld Tuesday by a
federal judge, who rejected arguments that the award disregarded
Florida law and was excessive.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn ruled arbitrator Richard Bloch
was "well within the scope of his authority" in his
interpretation of the case.

Williams breached his contract when he retired abruptly last
July. Bloch ruled in September that under the terms of the
contract, he was required to repay the Dolphins $8.6 million in
bonus money he had received.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the NFL Players'
Association, said a decision would be made in the next several days
regarding whether to appeal Cohn's ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

"We don't think the judge got it right," Kessler said. "We
didn't think his explanation as to why we didn't win was very

Kessler conceded at a hearing Friday in Fort Lauderdale that the
Dolphins were entitled to some damages. But he argued that the case
should be returned to Bloch and the award amount reduced because
the arbitrator's ruling disregarded Florida law, which prohibits
contracts from including penalty clauses.

Williams, whose retirement sent the Dolphins reeling to a 4-12
season, has been studying holistic medicine at a small college near
Sacramento, Calif. He recently said he's enjoying retirement.

Kessler said last week he didn't know whether Williams had the
money to repay the Dolphins.

New Orleans Saints: The team is expected to file paperwork with the NFL and the players' union by Wednesday to designate defensive end Darren Howard as a franchise free agent, general manager Mickey Loomis said.

The move would require the Saints to pay Howard a $7.8 million base salary in 2005 -- a 20 percent increase from the $6.5 million salary he received as a franchise free agent in 2004. The club has until Feb. 22 to make an official designation.

"It's just one of those tools teams have to keep high quality players
they feel probably would be gone otherwise, and I don't think
there's any doubt Darren would have a number of suitors," Howard's
agent, Gary Wichard, said Tuesday.

Although he missed three games and at times played through neck
and knee injuries, Howard led the Saints with 11 sacks, his most since
his rookie season in 2000.

Under terms of the franchise designation, Howard may negotiate with other teams, but the Saints can match any offer he receives. If they elect not to match the offer, they would receive two first-round draft picks from Howard's new team as compensation. The Saints also could trade Howard, which would clear his entire salary from the salary cap.

If they keep him, they would have more than $10.4 million in
salary cap money devoted to defensive ends. Charles Grant and Will
Smith, two former first-round draft picks, will count $1.3 million
each against the cap.

Minnesota Vikings: Rich Olson, who has nine years experience in the NFL, was named Vikings quarterbacks coach.

Olson was San Francisco's quarterbacks coach last season and served as Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2001-02. He will replace Scott Linehan and work closely with Daunte Culpepper, who set several team records in 2004 and made his third Pro Bowl. Culpepper's career took off under the tutelage of Linehan -- who left to become Miami's offensive coordinator.

Vikings offensive line coach Steve Loney was promoted last month
to replace Linehan as offensive coordinator.

Coach Mike Tice is still searching for a wide receivers coach to
replace Charlie Baggett, who joined Linehan with the Dolphins.