Ricky, CFL a natural fit

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:26 AM ET

If mercurial running back Ricky Williams wants to play football again -- and given his history, there's no certainty of that -- the Argos, and to a bigger extent the Canadian Football League, are his only option.

On Tuesday, after Williams lost the appeal of his suspension for the entire 2006 National Football League season because of his fourth violation of the substance abuse policy, the Argos put the Miami Dolphins player on their negotiation list. Every CFL team has a neg list of 35 college and pro players who can deal only with the club that has their rights. Quarterback Eric Crouch, who was signed by the Argos this year, had been on and off the team's neg list for six years.

"I floated the idea and told (the agency) to think about it, that it was a way (for Williams) to continue playing and keep his edge," Argos assistant general manager Greg Mohns said yesterday.

Numerous NFL players -- including current Argos receiver R. Jay Soward, who was suspended indefinitely by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001 for substance abuse transgressions -- have turned to the CFL in similar situations.

A loophole in the NFL substance abuse enforcement policy allows suspended players to play in another league. The CFL does not have a substance abuse policy, so technically if a player has a particular problem with drugs and/or alcohol, there's no way to suspend him. But if the club finds that it is an issue, it can release the player because pro football contracts are not guaranteed -- only signing bonuses.

When Williams retired suddenly in 2004, the Dolphins protested, claiming he violated his contract with them and legally challenged him to return a portion of his pro-rated bonus. The Dolphins had him by his famous dreadlocks.

Williams -- who left the game because he had enough of it and wanted to explore the world, study yoga to become an instructor and to have the freedom to smoke marijuana -- faced playing or paying. He returned to the Dolphins after a year's sabbatical, apologized to the team and was welcomed back.

He missed the first four games while serving a previous suspension for his third violation of the substance abuse policy and rushed for 743 yards on 168 carries. That's not shabby, considering all the time he missed.

Williams led the NFL in rushing in 2002 with 1,853 yards and when motivated, is one of the premier running backs in the game.

His only problem is his penchant for marijuana use, though he claimed the fourth positive test, which happened earlier this year, is related to herbal use.

MONEY NOT IMPORTANT?

At best in the CFL, Williams would receive a salary of $200,000-$300,000 -- or about 10% of his scheduled NFL base, which could add up to $6 million US in bonuses -- but where could he make that kind of money elsewhere? Then again, his decision to quit once before suggests money is not that important to him -- just paying it back.

"Imagine if (Williams) was ever motivated to play? I think he could do okay in this league," Argos co-owner David Cynamon said. "Maybe the type of players that we have -- and I say that in a positive way -- could straighten him out.

"If you make the assumption that mentally and physically he was ready to play, then it's worth a shot. You'd end up shuffling guys around to make room for him."

"It makes just as much sense for Ricky as it does for (the Argos)," Rogers Sportsnet CFL analyst Eric Tillman said. "He cannot sit out for two or three years. He needs to play. It's a golden opportunity for him and them."

For the Argos, it's simply nothing ventured, nothing gained.

"We're in a big city and have a unique person as a head coach (Pinball Clemons) who could become a mentor and a lifelong friend," Mohns said. "Right now we're just in the exploratory stage. It might not go anywhere."

If it ever did, people surely would pay to see Ricky run.


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