Bengals eye Dillon by June 1

5-08-01, 5:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Now that Corey Dillon has Eddie George's blocking fullback, does he get his contract, too?

That question and many more could be answered as soon as this week. Bengals President Mike Brown said Tuesday the club has a meeting planned with Dillon's agents this week, but wouldn't be specific.

Yet Brown did say the club is shutting off all other free-agent activity so it can nail down a long-term contract for his Pro Bowl running back. The goal is to get it done before June 1, when the Bengals expect another batch of players to hit free agency.

Brown said the speed of negotiations depends on if Dillon and agent David Dunn accept bargaining based on comparisons to other running backs.

The one team that had publicly expressed interest in Dillon has bowed out of the derby. In Wednesday's editions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tony Grossi reported that Browns director of football operations Dwight Clark said his club is opting to stick with the running backs already in place.

"I think it's going to get done. The only issue is when," Brown said of the Bengals' Dillon deal. "We'd like to get Corey done so we can get that behind us and see where we are with the salary cap.

"We want to see what bobs up in the market after June 1 and there'll be some players. It would be good to have him done so we can make other plans. This is a thing that constrains our ability to do other things."

Dillon is charged up about the addition of fullback Lorenzo Neal, the former Titan who has blocked for four straight 1,000-yard rushers and is committed to helping Dillon to his fifth straight 1,000-yard season.

"I'm not disrespecting my fullbacks, but (Neal) is a great add," Dillon said. "That gives me more power down on the field. Look at how many weapons we've got on offense now. Where do you begin? Where do you put them all? We've got grenades, bazookas, machine guns. It's time to go to war with these guys."

Will the negotiations be war? They were last year

when the Bengals pushed the comparisons. That's when Dillon sought $5 million per year and the Bengals offered $4.3 million and they ended up agreeing on a one-year, $3 million contract three weeks into Dillon's training-camp holdout.

After setting the Bengals' single-season rushing record

with 1,435 yards that were just 74 yards behind George, Dillon no doubt is looking at the Titan's $6 million per year deal with essentially a $14 million signing bonus.

Dillon isn't saying much about negotiations, but the challenge he issued Sunday night to get a deal on Friday seems not only to have stirred the Bengals, but also his agents.

Dillon did say whenever the meeting takes place, he'll be in the room. At least part of the time.

"I'm the only one allowed to take a break," he said. "And the next time I talk about the contract, I want it to be at the press conference in my three-piece suit wearing my gators (shoes)."

With the signings of Neal and left tackle Richmond Webb, the Bengals figure to have about $7.5 million under the cap, according to national figures. More than $4 million is ticketed to rookies with the rest budgeted for Dillon.

The Bengals fought Dillon on the George comparisons last year, when George had 16 more catches and nearly 300 more total yards. In 2000, George caught 50 balls to Dillon's 18. But Dillon's 4.6 yards per carry on the rush was nearly a yard better than George.

Will it be a fight this year?

"There are certain premises. He went the free-agent route, we went the tag route," said Brown, referring to the Bengals' use of the transition tag that gives them the right to match any offer.

"He's entitled, we're entitled. He didn't find a new home, so now the issue is on what basis do we negotiate? Our argument at this point is that we're not negotiating on a free-agent basis, where we're bidding with someone who's out there.

"Rather, we should look at the other players. See what they've done and what they get paid. Guys he's comparable to are the ones that should set his pay standard. It's comparative bargaining. If they're willing to accept that, then I think we could get something done. If they have something else in mind, it will be awhile."

Dillon, not to mention Neal, wants something that gets him on the field.

Neal asked how many yards Dillon had last year. Told 1,435, Neal said, "We can do better than that. Eddie had 1,500. We can do that. Just stay on my hip."

Brown is hoping Dillon signs in time to attend the veteran voluntary camps being held at Paul Brown Stadium each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this month. He doesn't want Dillon to miss any of training camp for timing and injury purposes.

"He wants to play and we want him to play," Brown said. "He's an integral part of what we do and we'd like him to be with the team."

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