Dolphins halfback Ricky Williams lost his appeal with the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy and will be ineligible for the 2006 season.
The appeal was of his fourth violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, a ruling that places his football career in jeopardy.
Two sources said Williams was told of the ruling earlier Tuesday. This will mark the second time in three years that Williams will sit out a full season. Williams missed the 2004 campaign when he abruptly retired days before the start of training camp that summer, following his third violation of the substance abuse policy.
"I'm disappointed with the decision but I respect it," Williams said in a statement issued through the Dolphins. "I'm proud of my association with the National Football League and look forward to returning to the Dolphins in 2007."
Williams can apply for reinstatement to the league after one year. He will not be allowed to train at the Dolphins' facility for the next year.
But even if he were to be reinstated in 2007, Williams would return as a 30-year-old running back who had appeared in just 12 games in three years. Life is difficult enough for a running back in the NFL once he turns 30. It would be especially difficult for Williams, given the rust he would have accumulated. And there are no guarantees that he will want to resume his career when eligible for reinstatement.
"Ricky is obviously disappointed," his agent, Leigh Steinberg, told The Associated Press. "He'll need to work hard to get back to the league in 2007."
The four-time 1,000-yard rusher returned to the Dolphins in 2005, served a four-game suspension for his past drug-related offenses and forfeited an additional four game checks as part of the sanctions against him. He then ran for 743 yards and six touchdowns while serving as the backup to rookie tailback Ronnie Brown, the team's first-round pick. Williams played in 12 games, starting three.
League officials have yet to comment on the resolution to Williams' appeal, which was heard April 10 in a session presided over by league counsel Jeffrey Pash. There had been no indication of when a resolution might come on Williams' appeal, but in the hearing, the Dolphins requested an expedited decision. That was because Miami wanted to go into the draft the weekend with a clear picture of their tailback situation.
Decisions on such appeals can often take months, but the league clearly viewed the Williams situation and the proximity to the draft as a mitigating circumstance and made a quicker determination.
According to various reports, Williams tested positive, likely in December toward the end of the 2005 season, for a substance banned by the league. In at least three other violations, Williams tested positive for marijuana. Several sources have claimed that the substance in the latest positive test was not marijuana.
News that Williams had failed another drug test surfaced in February, while he was in India studying yoga and holistic medicine.
In the lengthy appeals hearing, it is believed that attorney David Cornwell, who represented Williams, claimed that the positive test was inconsistent with his client's behavior over the past year. A former league counsel, Cornwell helped craft the NFL's substance abuse guidelines, is eminently familiar with the policy and has represented many players in the past in the appeals process.
"We raised substantial and legitimate issues arising out of the application of the NFL's policy and program for substances of abuse," Cornwell said in a statement. He urged the players' union and ownership to "review the issues we raised on the appeal ... and restore the original intention of the NFL's policy to put equal focus on helping NFL players as is put on testing and suspending them."
One of the witnesses who testified in support of Williams in the appeal was Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who has repeatedly praised Williams' conduct and performance last season.
"This is a league decision, and we are disappointed in what it means for Ricky and the team," Saban said in a statement. "Ricky did an outstanding job for the Dolphins, not only as a player but also what he added as a person to the team's chemistry and to our overall success."
For his career, Williams, the first-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints who was traded to Miami in 2002, has rushed for 7,097 yards and 47 touchdowns on 1,757 carries. The former University of Texas star has appeared in 82 games and started 73 times.
The suspension represents a financial blow for Williams, who owes the Dolphins $8.6 million for breaching his contract when he retired in 2004. His return to the NFL was motivated partly by the need for a paycheck.
The Dolphins recently re-signed backup tailbacks Sammy Morris and Travis Minor, but neither figures to provide them the kind of productivity that Williams did in 2005.
Information from ESPN.com senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.