Williams must still serve suspension if he returns

MIAMI -- Ricky Williams will report to Dolphins training camp in July, according to his agent, Leigh Steinberg.

Steinberg told the Palm Beach Post on Friday that Williams "absolutely" plans to rejoin the Dolphins after retiring before last season.

"Ricky's made the decision he wants to play again," Steinberg told the paper.

Williams' strong rapport with new Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban is part of the reason why the running back is contemplating a return, Steinberg said Friday.

Williams and Saban have had "some steady dialogue in the last 10 days," said Steinberg, who would not discuss specifics or detail what would have to transpire in the coming weeks for the NFL's leading rusher in 2002 to rejoin the Dolphins.

"Ricky has expressed a desire and excitement about returning to the Dolphins and playing football this season," Steinberg said. "He's keeping in shape and has been involved in a rigorous training program."

Williams, however, did not sound as certain about his return in an online chat with a Sports Illustrated reporter on Wednesday night, saying, "I honestly do not know [about playing football again]."

Williams retired unexpectedly last July, shortly before the Dolphins opened training camp and began their tumult-filled season. Without him, Miami went 4-12, coach Dave Wannstedt resigned after nine games and the Dolphins averaged just 17.2 points and 275 yards per game -- their worst production since 1969.

The leading Dolphins rusher in 2004, Sammy Morris, had 523 yards -- well off Williams' total of 1,372 in 2003 and his NFL-best 1,853 from 2002.

Saban, who has continually remained open to the prospect of Williams returning, said the sides are "in the process of evaluating" some issues that could lead to a comeback.

As recently as February, when he was in South Florida for a hearing in a paternity case, Williams told reporters he was "enjoying retirement" and unsure if he'd ever return to football.

If Williams returns, he'd likely have to wait until July to un-retire. Otherwise, he would face a one-year suspension for his violations of the NFL's substance-abuse program.

"He owes a four-game suspension provided he comes back after the one-year anniversary of his retirement," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday.

The Williams saga had numerous twists, including his acknowledgment shortly after retiring that he failed drug tests and faced a suspension for testing positive three times for marijuana. A court later found him in breach of contract by retiring and ordered him to repay the Dolphins $8.6 million.

"I think he will come through this and be very productive as a player and be a good role model once again," Steinberg told Game Night on ESPN Radio. "We've seen so many situations in this world where people go through troubles and come back and are usually productive. There are players in the NFL who are involved in murder and involved in situations who are now doing endorsements. There are players who are involved in very serious situations where they hurt other people and somehow they are accepted. Ricky Williams was mostly destructive to himself."

Williams spent much of the last year traveling to places like India and Australia but, according to some close to him, continued to follow football and the Dolphins. He also enrolled at the California College of Ayurveda in Grass Valley, Calif., studying holistic medicine.

"I don't think he has ever lost his passion of the game of football," Steinberg told ESPN Radio. "The only question is whether or not he felt he could exist within the parameters of the NFL. He's been going to the school to help him heal from the drug use. All of that has led him on the path that has made him miss the NFL more and more and more and led him again on a path, which is sort of a more natural path and away from the substances that may not work in the NFL. Right now, the Dolphins is an exciting place to be."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.