Back to what future?

2-18-04, 11:45 p.m. Updated:
2-19-04, 8:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ The subject is Ohio running backs as NFL executives, coaches and scouts began assembling here for the NFL scouting combine Wednesday afternoon and evening.

A quick-hit lobby survey of a handful of NFL general managers and personnel types revealed they think the Bengals have an attractive and marketable player in running back Corey Dillon. Some say his age is working against him, but others also say his track record and manageable $3.3 million salary should be able to translate into a first day draft pick if the Bengals want to grant his wish and trade him.

Yet, the Lions and Redskins, two teams that might have interest, showed indications here Wednesday that they aren't interested yet, but with all the teams here there could be some feelers from others.

More running backs?

Peter Schaffer, the agent for Dillon's presumed successor, Rudi Johnson, is still planning on his annual combine sushi summit this weekend with vice president for player personnel Paul Brown. The subject of his client's restricted free agency is most likely on the menu as he waits for an offer.

"The ball is in their court," said Schaffer, the Denver-based agent who struck up the friendship during Brown's college days in Colorado.

More backs?

Former Ohio State sophomore Maurice Clarett is expected to be unveiled here Thursday, fresh from his court victory challenging the league's eligibility rules.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is clearly miffed at the position in which Dillon has put the team with his trade demands even though he has two years left on his contract. And he's not saying yet he'll grant that big wish.

Asked if he could persuade Dillon to return in a happier frame of mind, Lewis said, "He's got two years on his contract. Either you play or you don't play. . .That's all I'm going to say about a player that is still under contract."

Lions president and CEO Matt Millen said plenty of good things about the Bengals' all-time leading rusher even though he said he doubts his club is going to get involved.

"Sure, he's tradable and has value," said Millen, who dismissed Dillon's outbursts that some have

viewed as anti-team. "Every team in the NFL has outspoken players on their team. It's all about fitting in, and when you move into a different situation, usually that takes care of it. I think Corey's got plenty left. Now, whether someone is going to take that (salary) hit is a question."

The other GMs didn't want to be identified, but some think a team will take on the $3.3 million figure because it isn't gross. But it might not happen right away as some other things look to get settled first, such as the fallout that will come with teams getting under the salary cap before the March 3 start of free agency.

"His attitude may or may not be a problem. It depends on the team," said one. "Every teams looks at that a different way. But it only takes one and I think they'll find that one."

One NFC GM wondered about Dillon's age (30 in October) as he comes off his most injured season. He thought it would make teams look at the tape harder and put a question mark next to him, but he also thinks a third-round pick is in reason.

One AFC GM thinks the fact Dillon carried just 138 times this past season can play into his favor. After carrying a total of 655 times in 2000 and 2001, Dillon has carried the ball 452 times since.

"He hasn't played all that much and that's cut down on his wear and tear," the GM said. "You're talking about an elite guy who I think has got some good years left."

One AFC personnel chief said the current crop of rookie running backs shouldn't cut down Dillon's marketability. He says it's a solid class, but not particularly deep, and if a club can't draft a back early, then a veteran like Dillon is a nice alternative.

The GMs agree there will be a team with which the Bengals can make a deal. But as of Wednesday, it wasn't clear which one.

Schaffer is set to find a deal for Johnson when free agency opens, but the Bengals could numb things with a tender offer of about $1.8 million for one year. That would give the Bengals first- and third-round compensation for Johnson if they don't match another team's offer sheet.

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AGENT MUNOZ:** Bengals Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz checked in and out of here for a few hours Wednesday as a board member of the NFL's Youth Football Fund, but he'll be anxiously watching his first combine results as an agent from afar. Munoz is training players for the Cincinnati firm of Integrity First Management that has two players scheduled to work here in Miami of Ohio guard-tackle Jacob Bell and Tennessee cornerback Jabari Greer.

Ironically Wednesday, he bumped into his old Bengals offensive line coach and new Bills assistant Jim McNally, a man he has helped down through the years in various NFL camps. But Munoz indicated he has currently has no desire to join McNally in the coaching ranks.

"I love what I'm doing. I like the coaching and

teaching part of getting guys prepared for the NFL," Munoz said. "With Jacob, we feel like his quickness as a big man is his biggest strength, but we also worked on the technique. They've already seen him on tape, so we want to show them how quick his feet are, how well he moves. We've been doing a lot of stuff the last month.

"The one thing we planned out is each stage," Munoz said. "From what I understand, he did well in the Senior Bowl. Now we want him to do even better here, and then finish it off at his pro day."

Munoz thinks the 6-4, 292-pound Bell can play either guard or tackle in their bid to get him into the first day of the draft. Some early draftnick calls have Bell going somewhere in the fifth round and Greer around the seventh.

Munoz's former teammate, cornerback Eric Thomas, worked out Greer. The contract negotiator for the company is Cincinnati agent Konrad Kircher. Five of their clients haven't been invited to the combine: Michigan State offensive lineman Joe Tate, Michigan tight end Andy Mignery, Miami of Ohio tight end Matt Brant, Phil Smith, a defensive end from Miami of Ohio, and what he calls "our wild card," linebacker Ron Sweringin from tiny Capital out of Columbus, Ohio.

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