The Ravens filled their big-back void with one of the biggest enigmas in NFL history.
Ricky Williams, who is as powerful as he is offbeat, agreed to a two-year contract with the Ravens on Monday that has a maximum value of $4 million. The 34-year-old running back is scheduled to take his physical Tuesday, the final step to becoming the team's primary backup to Ray Rice.
Understanding Williams off the field has been as difficult as stopping him on it. He led the NFL in rushing before retiring (temporarily) to a tent in Australia. He has tested positive for drugs four times while producing the fifth-most rushing yards among active players (9,565 yards).
The surprising news of Williams coming to the Ravens spread rapidly on social media, where Ravens fans posted "Run Ricky Run," which happens to be tattooed on Williams' left arm.
The Ravens are banking that the 5-foot-10, 230-pound back can provide punch to their revamped running attack, grind out first downs in short-yardage situations and dominate around the goal line.
"He's a pretty legit dude," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He looks like a big, strong guy and not somebody that I think a lot of people want to get in the way of."
Williams chose the Ravens over the Detroit Lions, a decision that showed he wanted a championship more than carries.
The Lions, who lost rookie running back Mikel Leshoure to a season-ending injury, made a strong push for Williams. Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan called Williams on Monday morning, telling him that he'd get 15 to 20 carries per game with the Lions and only eight per game with the Ravens.
Still, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner decided to take the job left by Willis McGahee, who was cut by the Ravens and later signed with the Denver Broncos.
"Baltimore is a perennial playoff team," Williams told 560-WQAM in South Florida. "I have only been to the playoffs twice, and both were short trips. It's a good opportunity and a wonderful way for me to end my career."
Williams' career has been an intriguing one to follow. After winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas, he was the fifth overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1999 in one of the boldest moves in draft history. Mike Ditka traded all of the Saints' 1999 draft picks as well as their first and third-round picks in 2000, to get Williams.
In 2002, Williams was traded to Miami for four draft picks, including two first-rounders. In his first season there, he finished as the league's rushing champion with 1,853 yards.
It was announced in 2004 that Williams tested positive for marijuana, and he retired for a season. He came back in 2005 and finished with 743 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
But he was suspended for the entire 2006 season after the NFL announced he violated its drug policy for the fourth time. After spending one season in the CFL, Williams re-joined the Dolphins, where he split time withRonnie Brown.
For those wondering if Williams has anything left, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season while the rest of the Dolphins' running backs managed 3.5 yards per carry. He is also a season removed from rushing for 1,221 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"He gives us a proven playmaker, outstanding runner and outstanding receiver and outstanding pass protector," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "I know he has a big-time chance of helping us."
Cameron was the head coach of the Dolphins in 2007, the year when Williams came off his year-long suspension. Williams has since acknowledged an affinity for marijuana.
Is there a risk in signing Williams?
"A lot of those things are way, way, way in the past," Cameron said. "My relationship and my experience with him, there is no risk. But we're all human. We all make mistakes. Ricky is not perfect.
But I know he's got a great heart and he's a great football player."
Reports out of Miami indicate that teammates love Williams and coaches respect him. But outside observers have often raised an eyebrow at him.
Fans remember seeing him on the cover of ESPN the Magazine in 1999, when he posed in a wedding dress with Ditka wearing a tux. They've heard the stories of him teaching yoga in California under the Hindu name Rudra.
The Ravens' Jalen Parmele, who drops down to the No. 3 running back with Williams' arrival, described Williams as the "calmest dude ever."
"He's quiet, he keeps to himself, but he teaches," said Parmele, who spent most of the 2008 season on Miami's practice squad. "He's always learning, and I think having him, he can teach us a lot of things. I think the veteran leadership will help, and Ricky's a cool guy. I like him. So I'm glad to have him."
Parmele, though, is unsure whether he'll give his No. 34 to Williams.
"No. 34 goes back to my days in Pop Warner, so I'm kind of attached to this number," Parmele said. "I don't know. We'll see what he says."
Williams was the best available back left in free agency after other viable options like Brown, Jason Snelling and Cadillac Williams signed elsewhere.
The Ravens needed a big back after they released McGahee on July 28, which created $6 million in salary-cap room.
McGahee signed a four-year contract that averages $2.5 million per season, and Williams agreed to a deal that could be worth $2 million per season.
"There's a lot of respect for each other, especially for his game and what he's been through," said Rice, who conversed with Williams last year on Twitter.
The addition of Williams continues the Ravens' commitment this offseason to upgrading a running game that slipped to 28th in yards per carry.
The message of returning to a smash-mouth offense has been underscored by signing All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach (three years, $11 million), retaining valuable guard Marshal Yanda (five years, $32 million) and securing Williams.
"I think we know what we want to be," Cameron said. "I think we know how to do it."
Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this articleCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times