Several league sources said Monday night that the case against Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, who reportedly violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy for a fourth time and who faces a possible one-year suspension, already is in the appeals process, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports.
A source told ESPN.com's John Clayton that the team was aware of Williams' appeal.
None of the sources would divulge when the reported violation occurred or precisely when the appeal was filed through the NFL Players' Association. Two sources did acknowledge the appeal was submitted before reports surfaced Sunday evening of Williams' latest apparent violation. League policy requires that test results be kept confidential.
The timetable for resolving such appeals, which could be heard by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, varies by case and might take several months. Sources on Monday suggested Williams' appeal will likely take one-to-three months to resolve.
Meanwhile, sources told ESPN's Hank Goldberg that Williams' violation of the league's substance-abuse policy is not a matter of a missed test. Williams has failed a drug test, the sources said.
The substance discovered is not known publicly but a source told ESPN.com's Clayton that the drug for which Williams was said to have tested positive was not marijuana. Williams has three times prior tested positive for marijuana use.
The Miami Herald quoted a source who called the Williams' situation "confusing." When asked what substance he might have been using, the source told the newspaper, "This whole thing is a little confusing. I'll just leave it at that. The best way to say it is he violated the program."
Denver television station KDVR first reported Sunday night that Williams again had violated the league's policy. An NFL spokesman told ESPN that the NFL had no comment on the report.
Because of the confidentiality guidelines of the NFL system, it is not known how many appeals have succeeded, but reversals are believed to be rare. In 2000, however, then-Miami running back J.J. Johnson won his appeal against charges that he had violated the substance abuse policy, and he was spared a four-game suspension.
The basis of Johnson's appeal remains unknown.
Williams has tested positive for marijuana three times and served a four-game suspension when he returned to the NFL last season following a one-year retirement.
Williams' agent, Leigh Steinberg, did not wish to discuss Williams' situation except in hypothetical terms, according to the Herald.
"Assuming that something like this happened, an appeal would have been filed. In the best case, that appeal would probably not have been heard until April, but now that all this information is out, it's impossible to know what might happen. I would be blown away if Ricky Williams used drugs, and that's how most of the people around him also feel," Steinberg told the newspaper.
The report caught Williams' mother by surprise. On Sunday, Sandy Williams told the Palm Beach Post that her son is currently in India, that they had not spoken of late, and that she'd "bet my life he's not smoking marijuana."
Steinberg said Williams has been in India for approximately two weeks and is not scheduled to return to the United States until early April. He said Williams could have received permission from the NFL to leave the country for a period of time and not be tested under the league's substance-abuse policy.
Williams abruptly retired from the NFL in July 2004 and the Dolphins fell apart, losing their first six games and finishing 4-12 -- their worst season since the 1960s.
At the time of his return, Williams was ordered to pay the Dolphins $8.6 million for breaching his contract, although there has been no financial resolution between him and the team. He was scheduled to be paid the league minimum of $540,000 last season but was docked four games' pay because of his league-mandated suspension and was fined another four games in pay, reducing his take to $285,882.
Williams' base salaries for the two coming seasons are $545,000 and $670,000, the minimum for a player (he entered the league in 1999) of his NFL tenure.
ESPN.com senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used.