"When I read that story, the first thing I thought was, We need to visit with Ricky more," says New Orleans general manager Randy Mueller. "At the time, I had been here only a few weeks, as had Jim [ Haslett], and neither of us really had a relationship with him. But we're going to build relationships. We want him to know that we are in this together. I think he's bought into that and learned to trust people."
"Even though the article was bad, all the things that happened after it were things I wanted to happen," says Williams, who didn't apologize for the remarks. "I wanted the team to be more of a team, and that happened. I wanted Coach Haslett to respect me more, and that's happened. I wish I had been more mature about the comments, but I meant what I said."
Williams changed agents in the offseason, dropping rapper Master P and signing with Leigh Steinberg. According to Steinberg, he and Williams got together about 10 days after the SI story appeared. "The Ricky I knew had been distorted in the public eye," Steinberg says, "and a lot of that was because of his own comments and actions. It wasn't like this was laid on him, and it was time for a new approach."
Williams takes pride in being his own man, and he still feels people judge him before they get to know him. One of his concerns, though, is that he's always fighting battles he can't win—for example, wearing his helmet during interviews last season because a photographer once told him to take it off. Says Williams, who now goes bareheaded during interviews, "There are some challenges I don't need, and I have to do a better job of picking my battles."
He also wants to do a better job of picking his friends. Williams says one of his best friends recently called him and asked if he could have a car. Williams wasn't sure if the man wanted to borrow one of his vehicles or wanted one bought for him. Williams said no. "He got upset and said that I had changed," says Williams, who believes a number of his childhood friends now react to him as a football player rather than as a person they have known all their lives. "He told me that I treat strangers better than I do those people close to me. My response was that people who know me treat me worse than those who don't." Williams says he may have lost a friend as a result.
Williams realizes that he can no longer be naive about the business of football, either. "Last year my whole outlook was, I will have fun doing what I love," he says. "I still have fun, but now I understand it's different. I never thought I would look at this as a job, but that's what it is."