Originally created 03/09/02

Saints trade Williams to Dolphins



DAVIE, Fla. -- Three years ago, the New Orleans Saints decided Ricky Williams was worth an entire draft. Now the Miami Dolphins believe he could be worth two first-round picks.

And the agent for the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner says Williams is worth more money - which could be a problem for the Dolphins.

The Saints traded Williams to Miami on Friday for draft picks: a first-round choice in 2002 and a third-rounder in 2003 that could escalate to a first-rounder if Williams rushes for 1,500 yards this year.

"That would lead the league and put him in the Pro Bowl and hopefully put us in the Super Bowl," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said.

The teams also swapped fourth-round selections in next month's draft, allowing the Dolphins to move up 11 spots.

In 1999 Mike Ditka, then the Saints' coach, traded all eight of their draft picks to acquire Williams. But the new regime in New Orleans wants to build through the draft.

"We never like to trade good football players, but this was a deal that we felt like we couldn't pass up," general manager Randy Mueller said. "The extra draft picks allow us to concentrate on some of the other areas of our team that need to be addressed."

And they'll no longer have to worry about the prickly issue of Williams' contract. The eight-year deal, negotiated by rapper Master P.'s agency after the Saints made Williams the No. 5 pick in 1999, contains large incentives but low base salaries, including just $350,000 this season.

"It's a contract that's unique in the annals of NFL history," said Leigh Steinberg, now Williams' agent. "It's a contract that cries out for renegotiation."

The Dolphins don't plan to renegotiate, Wannstedt said.

"That has not been discussed. That's not part of the deal," he said. "Ricky and Leigh Steinberg know that if you come in and contribute and help the Dolphins win games, you're going to be taken care of."

Williams, 24, declined to discuss his contract and said he's delighted to join Miami. He'll be in town Monday.

"The biggest plus for me is I'm coming into a situation where they already have a good team. They're just adding a good player," Williams said. "I'm going to be surrounded with talent. I'm not going to feel like it's my job to win games. I just have to do my part."

The deal is the biggest for the Dolphins since at least 1985, when they acquired linebacker Hugh Green from Tampa Bay for first- and second-round draft picks. Williams will become the first Heisman Trophy winner to play for them.

The trade would have been even more of a blockbuster for the Dolphins if they had landed free agent Olin Kreutz, a two-time Pro Bowl center. But he rejected Miami's six-year contract offer Friday and instead re-signed with the Chicago Bears for less money.

"Obviously we would have liked to have had him," Wannstedt said. "We gave it a shot."

Miami agreed to terms with free agent guard Leon Searcy, who will compete for a starting job. Searcy signed a one-year, $750,000 deal.

Williams set 20 NCAA rushing records, including career yardage, and topped 1,000 yards the past two seasons for New Orleans. But he says he didn't hit it off with Jim Haslett, who became the coach in 2000.

New Orleans took running back Deuce McAllister in the first round of the draft a year ago.

"Ricky did everything we asked over the last two years," Haslett said. "We didn't make this move without considering every angle. But we have spots on our roster that we are trying to improve, and we have a good, young player in McAllister who needs to be on the field."

The Dolphins gave up the 25th pick in next month's draft, meaning the Saints have two first-round choices for the first time since 1993. They already had the No. 13 pick.

Miami's first choice will be No. 90, in the third round.

The Saints and Dolphins began trade talks in late January. Williams' only other suitor was the Cleveland Browns, who dropped out of the bidding this week.

Williams gives the Dolphins their best running threat since the 1970s, before Dan Marino turned them into a passing team. Miami has never had an NFL rushing leader, but third-and-1 no longer looks quite so daunting.

"All first downs this year," Wannstedt said with a smile.

Williams ran for 3,129 yards and 16 touchdowns in three season with the Saints. But he also fumbled 20 times, losing 12, and was slowed by an injury every year.

And he has developed a reputation for being eccentric. After joining the Saints, Williams posed in a wedding gown for a photo with Ditka and sometimes wore a helmet and dark visor during interviews. He was arrested in Louisiana last month on a charge on driving 126 mph.

A salary dispute could come next. But for the moment, Williams will embrace a fresh start.

"I don't think I need it," he said. "But I definitely think it's good."