OWINGS MILLS — Ricky Williams’ colorful NFL career came to an abrupt halt Tuesday when the veteran running back told Baltimore Ravens team officials that he intends to retire.
Always known as a character who marched to his own unique rhythm, the former Pro Bowl runner could always change his mind.
And Williams acknowledged that reality, saying: "The easy answer is I’ve moved on, but the one thing I’ve learned about myself is, ‘Who the hell knows?"
For now, though, Williams is walking away from football at age 34 with one year remaining on his two-year $2.6 million contract. Given a $100,000 signing bonus last August, Williams’ pending retirement would save the Ravens $1.5 million against the salary cap. It also leaves them without a capable insurance policy behind Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice.
Williams rushed for 444 yards and scored two touchdowns last season as the primary backup to Rice, eclipsing the 10,000-yard rushing mark against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Ravens’ regular-season finale.
Williams is the 26th player to reach that milestone in NFL history, gaining 10,009 career yards and scoring 66 rushing touchdowns with 342 receptions for 2,606 yards and eight touchdowns.
"The NFL has been an amazing page in this chapter of my life," Williams said. "I pray that all successive adventures offer me the same potential for growth, success and most importantly, fun. I want to thank all my fans, teammates, coaches and supporters for the strength they’ve given me to overcome so much.. As for what’s next, I am excited about all the opportunities ahead, continuing my education, running the Ricky Williams foundation and whatever other opportunities present themselves.
"My football career has been filled with many great memories. It has been a big part of my life and blessed me with so many wonderful opportunities and the chance to connect with many people who have helped me grow and mature. I will miss the game, the camaraderie, my teammates and especially the emotions of a big victory. I love the game and leave it feeling fulfilled, proud, in great health and excited about the future. I have to thank coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens organization for the opportunity they gave me this year. I had so much fun and really appreciated the chance to finish on such a great note."
This isn’t Williams’ first retirement.
The former Heisman Trophy winner retired in 2004 for one year while facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, returning to the Miami Dolphins one year later.
Suspended for the entire 2006 season after another failed drug test for marijuana, Williams spent that season with the Toronto Argonauts as the highest-paid running back in the Canadian Football League.
Williams was drafted fifth overall by the New Orleans Saints as coach Mike Ditka traded all of his draft picks to acquire the former University of Texas star.
Williams chose the Ravens over a competing offer with the Detroit Lions last summer and helped the Ravens reach the AFC championship game and win an AFC North division title.
A quiet, soft-spoken personality, Williams fit in well with the Ravens’ locker room.
"I was a big fan of Ricky before we were teammates, but being around him this year is the best thing that happened to me in my NFL career," Rice said. "As a young player, you need to be around a guy who knows what he is doing, and Ricky was tremendous to learn from. This past season with him is a year I will never forget. I had the best year with him beside me, and that was no accident.
"I believe that Ricky Williams is a Hall of Famer. All that he has done in his career, he deserves that. I was honored to share the field with him when he went over 10,000 yards. What an amazing accomplishment, as he is one of the best. I will miss him, but I wish him and his family well."
Williams led the league with 1,853 rushing yards in 2002 for the Dolphins, garnering his only Pro Bowl selection.
He rushed for 1,372 yards the following season, giving him the two most productive rushing seasons in Dolphins franchise history.
He’s ranked second in Dolphins history with 6,436 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns.
"Ricky is one of the most productive rushers in league history, and he was a tremendous asset to our team this past season," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We enjoyed having him as a member of the Ravens, as his leadership, work ethic and commitment contributed to our success. We are grateful for his contributions, and we wish him nothing but the best going forward."
Williams set 44 school records at Texas and owns or shares 20 NCAA rushing records, ranking second in NCAA history with 6,279 rushing yards behind former Wisconsin Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
If Williams doesn’t change his mind, the Ravens have two running backs on the roster.
The Ravens drafted Anthony Allen in the seventh round out of Georgia Tech last year and also have former University of Miami running back Damien Berry. Berry went undrafted and spent his rookie season on the Ravens’ practice squad.
Both are unproven.
Williams, though, is welcome to return if he has a change of heart.
"Ricky, in his time here, made a valuable and lasting contribution," Harbaugh said. "I especially enjoyed getting to know him as a person, and I have the utmost respect for him. He was great to be around and to work with every single day. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."