Bengals seek to sign Dillon after season

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals President Mike Brown went looking for running back Corey Dillon Monday to congratulate him on making history after making 278 yards Sunday against the Broncos.

When Brown found him near the Bengals locker room, he said, "I'm looking for The Man." The Man and Brown hugged, but they won't get any closer on a contract until after the season.

Yet Brown said once the Bengals and Dillon talk, it's the club's intention to sign their record-breaker when he becomes a free agent in February.

Although the club can't make Dillon a franchise player free agent, Brown is considering giving him the transition tag that gives the club the right to match any offer for Dillon. Unlike the franchise tag, the team wouldn't have to give up compensation if the Bengals choose not to match.

Actually, Dilllon was more worried about compensating his offensive line Monday. He learned from the best, Boomer Esiason, and gave each of them an envelope with some financial reward. Dillon wouldn't say how much, but Esiason would go for the $500 range.

"There's no question we want him back," Brown said. "It's just a matter of the cost. We won't talk until the end of the season. He's a fine player and a great competitor.

"I'm not anxious to get something going that doesn't come around quickly. I'm sure that Corey wants to concentrate on the season. We'll probably wait until the year is over and try to get something done. We'll probably talk with him before we get to (deciding on the transition tag by Feb. 15)."

There is plenty of support in the locker room for a Dillon deal. He had been looking for Eddie George-type numbers that included a signing bonus in the $8-10 million range when talks for a long-term deal stalled in the summer.

Now with Dillon's monster day erasing a nightmare season that pushes him 65 yards behind George and into the tenth spot in NFL rushing, the meter is running.

"If we lose him next year, that would be the biggest setback for our young guys," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "The passing game isn't where it should be and we can't figure out why. We definitely have to have strength in the running game to help Akili (Smith) through the transition where these guys try to win games by themselves too early."

Dillon gave off plenty of vibes during his offseason holdout that he wanted out of Cincinnati. But he hasn't hinted at anything like that since signing a one-year, $3 million deal Aug. 10 and said after Sunday's game, "I'm all ears. I'm a good listener. I'm willing to listen."

Asked Monday how much money he made Sunday, Dillon asked, "You tell me."

Told by a local reporter that his TV station is getting e-mail urging the Bengals to sign him now, Dillon said, "Working on the contract is not my department. I'm not too much worried about that. I'm going to continue to tough out this season and whatever happens at the end of this season happens."

Things can change. Like public opinion, After he told "The Cincinnati Enquirer," earlier this year he would be willing to "flip burgers,'' rather than return to the Bengals, he took a beating.

Told Monday the good people of Cincinnati would probably now cook him burgers, Dillon said, "That just goes to show how things change. That things can change for the better." . . .

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Which is what Sunday was all about. Dillon had heard the whispers during the negotiations from inside the club that some thought he lacked breakaway speed and didn't like the way he always carried the ball in his left hand.

"There were complaints I couldn't do some certain things," Dillon said. "I worked on it this offseason. I want to be the total package, to do a variety of things and it's paying off . I'm switching the ball, I'm moving up field, I'm outrunning people. Things I worked on in the offseason."

After watching Dillon run away twice for the game's final touchdowns from 65 and 41 yards, Brown saw plenty of speed that included five runs of 30 yards or more. Brown told Dillon he has been watching NFL running backs for more than 50 years and that he stood in awe of what transpired Sunday.

Even after Dillon watched the films, he found it hard to believe had racked up 278 yards.

"At the most, I thought I had 120," he said of his thoughts during the game. "That's what kept me going. I didn't think I had that much. It motivated me. Fighting for my four yards."

He ended up getting 12.6 per carry and it could have been more if two penalties didn't wipe out 20 yards.

"I thought about that," Dillon said. "I'm blessed to actually go out and get 278. . .It could have been more, but I'll settle for what I've got.

"It seemed like a high school game," Dillon said. "Those are high school numbers. I haven't seen numbers like that since I played in high school and Pop Warner."

There was no partying Sunday night. He just hung out with his wife and daughter. He caught the end of the Washington-Jacksonville game and went to sleep.

He was at Paul Brown Stadium early Monday, though, signing balls and programs and going through a schedule of interview requests with Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan and putting together Thursday's noon presentaion in which Dillon will give the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Joe Horrigan his jersey, shoes and pants to go on display in Canton.

He was going live at 8 p.m. Monday on ESPN's Prime Time Countdown show and they were trying to line him up for next Sunday's show. Also Monday he was going on the CBS Radio broadcast of the Miami-Jets game.

"To be honest," Dillon said, "it hasn't hit me yet."

He knows there are still plenty of hits left.

"We can play football with any body," Dillon said. "People are going to be shooting for us. It's going to be no different. They're going to throw eight men (on the line of scrimmage). We're going to see that from here in out."

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