(Updated: 3:10 p.m.)
Two weeks after saying he planned to return for the 2012 season, Ravens running back Ricky Williams has decided to call it a career.
The 34-year-old will retire from the National Football League after 11 seasons that also included a retirement in 2004 and a stop in the Canadian Football League in 2006. Williams eclipsed the 10,000-yard mark for his career in the Ravens’ regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 1, becoming the 26th player in league history to reach the mark.
“The NFL has been an amazing page in this chapter of my life,” Williams said in an official statement released by the Ravens. “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.”
Williams signed a two-year contract with the Ravens in August and served as the backup to Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. In limited duty, he rushed for 444 yards and two touchdowns, gaining 4.1 yards per carry — his career rushing average.
Following the Ravens’ heartbreaking 23-20 loss in the AFC championship, Williams appeared upbeat about returning to the team next season. Though considered a loner who kept to himself in the locker room, Williams was liked by teammates and Rice credited him as a major reason why he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2011.
“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 in a team statement. “As a young player, you need to be around a guy who knows what he is doing, and Ricky was tremendous to learn from. The way he took care of his body and the way he prepared, he always showed that he is a true professional.”
With Rice set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the Ravens are now faced with the task of not only retaining their Pro Bowl running back but also finding a suitable backup. Anthony Allen, Baltimore’s seventh-round pick in 2011, rushed for eight yards on three carries and is the only other running back still under contract from this past season’s 53-man roster. Damien Berry, an undrafted free agent from the University of Miami who spent last season on the practice squad, is also on the Ravens’ off-season roster.
Should Williams stay retired, the Ravens would save roughly $1.5 million on this coming season’s salary cap.
The No. 5 overall pick of the 1999 draft, Williams spent three years with the New Orleans Saints before being traded to Miami, where he spent seven productive but tumultuous seasons where he failed several drug tests and temporarily retired from the NFL in 2004. After being suspended by the NFL for the entire 2006 season, Williams played football in Canada for the Toronto Argonauts.
The most productive season of his career came in 2002 when Williams won the rushing title with 1,853 yards and finished with a Miami single-season franchise-record 16 rushing touchdowns. His 24 100-yard performances are also a Dolphins’ team record.
“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 also battled clinical depression and social anxiety disorder and was often misunderstood by coaches, teammates, and media during his career. He has said in numerous interviews that he hoped to one day become a doctor after his playing career was over.
The highly-intelligent Williams has always done things his way, never wanting to solely be defined as a football player, so his decision shouldn’t come as a major surprise despite his recent comments. However, a change of heart is certainly possible given the healthy relationship he enjoyed with the Ravens this past season.
“Thank you all, but this ain’t it, I’m gonna do something really special,” Williams said through his Twitter account shortly after the news broke about his retirement on Tuesday afternoon. “‘Be you and change the world.’”