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Source: Williams should have gotten better deal

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

The saga of Ricky Williams and one of the most famous deals in NFL history took an interesting turn last week when Williams had a new agent work out the terms of an extension with the Miami Dolphins.

That new agent was Williams himself.

Williams acted as his own representation because his previous agent, Leigh Steinberg, is currently not certified as an agent by the NFL Players Association. Steinberg let his certification lapse in 2007 for business reasons, although he said he is in the process of becoming certified again.

As for the one-year extension Williams agreed to last Saturday with the Dolphins, all Steinberg would say is, "I did not negotiate that contract." He had no further comment on the matter because he hadn't talked to Williams, who has yet to play out the terms of a contract he signed as a rookie in 1999, or see the deal.

A league source with direct knowledge of the contract said Williams received a roster bonus this year. For every game he is one the 53-man roster, Williams receives $93,750 for a maximum roster bonus of $1.5 million. He gets paid the bonus throughout the season as he earns it. The bonus is not guaranteed and he does receive it if he gets hurt or is released by the team.

In addition, Williams will get a $3.4 million base salary in 2009 and a $100,000 workout bonus for that offseason as part of the deal. There are no additional incentives in the deal for 2009. Williams received no guaranteed money as part of the contract.

As one NFL source described it: "It's not a good deal, but what can you do? He agreed to it."

Both Williams and the Dolphins declined to discuss the specifics of the contract. Williams declined an email request to talk about the deal and team spokesman Harvey Greene said the Dolphins "don't talk about contract negotiations."

Last week, Williams said he was happy because he believed the contract provided him with stability.

"It's nice. I'm at a point in my career where I'm looking for some kind of stability," Williams said in a group interview session. "At least I got another year here and keep my kids in the same place. I'm taking classes now, so it will help with the transition for life after football. I'm happy to be here for another year."

Two of Williams' four children live with him in South Florida. The other two children live in other parts of the country. For at least one of the children who doesn't live with him, Williams is required to pay more than $50,000 a year in child support and provide other financial benefits. That amount is regardless of whether Williams plays football.

While Williams' value will forever be limited by his history of suspensions because of drug use and because he retired before the 2004 season, getting $3 or $4 million in guarantees as part of a new contract next year may not have been that difficult, according to the source. Exceeding the total of $5 million in additional money Williams got in the contract for this year and 2009 seemed like a reasonable bet.

"There are a lot of ifs with Ricky, but with the money that's out there for free agents right now, he could have easily gotten that much," the source said. "There probably would have been some strings attached, but I think he could have done better than this."

The 31-year-old Williams was the No. 5 overall pick in the 1999 draft by New Orleans after a controversial trade by the Saints in which they gave up all their draft picks and future picks for the rights to get Williams.

At the time, Williams was represented by rapper Master P, who Williams hired after firing first agent Andrew Brandt. Brandt, a lawyer who had represented Williams as a baseball player, later became the salary cap guru and contract negotiator for the Packers. Brandt was with the Packers until early this year.

Under Master P, Williams hired Leland Hardy as his football contract negotiator. Hardy then constructed a rookie deal for Williams that has been used in law schools and business schools as a model for bad contracts.

Williams received a signing bonus worth $8.8 million as part of the deal and could have earned between $11 and $68 million over seven years as part of the contract. Unfortunately, the bulk of the incentives were based on Williams surpassing the first four years in performance by former Denver running back Terrell Davis, whose first four seasons are the most productive by any running back in NFL history.

Williams eventually fired Master P and Hardy and hired Steinberg after his first season. Neither the rapper nor Hardy are agents any longer.

In 2002, Williams was dealt to the Dolphins for what eventually became two first-round picks. Before the season, Williams and the Dolphins agreed to restructure the deal so that Williams could earn incentives and increase his base pay in following years. However, the contract featured language that is no longer allowed in the NFL that required that Williams pay back any incentives he earned and any rollover salary he earned under the incentives, in addition to any prorated signing bonus he had remaining from his rookie season.

Williams earned more than $3 million in incentives in 2002 as he rushed for an NFL-leading 1,853 yards. An amount equal to the more than $3 million was added to his 2003 salary as well.

However, when Williams failed multiple drug tests before the 2004 season and retired from the league, the Dolphins went after the money in federal court and through the NFL. The team received a court judgment for $8.6 million and an arbitrator upheld the team's right to get the money under the contract he signed.

That decision eventually led the NFL and NFLPA to negotiate what is known to this day as the Ricky Williams Rule, under which money that is earned from incentives can't be taken away from a player after the fact.

Williams' deal became even more complicated as he retired and/or was suspended by the league for all or parts of the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons. This year, Williams' 10th since being drafted, was to be the final year of his contract.

Or as Steinberg put it last Friday before the extension was done by Williams: "You remember the movie, 'The Endless Summer?' This is The Endless Contract. But finally it's all coming to an end. It's amazing. Most players have free agency after four years. Ricky took 10. Ricky doesn't do things in conventional ways."

Once again, that appears to be the case.

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