Bengals up Dillon offer

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After the Bengals upped their contract offer to $5 million per year for six years to Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, they spent today reviewing Dillon's counter proposal. But the club indicated there is still an appreciable gap as it tries to prevent Dillon from holding out the first 10 games. The Bengals were right when they predicted Tuesday that Dillon was watching for the Eddie George deal.

That's when the Titans made George the NFL's highest-paid running back today by extending his contract six more years at an average of about $6 million per year, complete with a $10 million signing bonus. Dillon has said he wants at least $5 million per year, but he may a number the Bengals are believed to be trying to reach in a variety of ways to prevent him from holding out for the first 10 games.

Bengals President Mike Brown said today he won't apologize for the $4.3 million per year offer for five years that Dillon turned down last month that came with a $5 million bonus. If a deal can't be reached, Brown invoked the image of Olandis Gary coming out of the fourth round to gain 1,159 yards last year for Denver in place of the injured Terrell Davis.

The George signing sharpens the already well defined arguments in these negotiations. With three 1,000-yard seasons in his first three years, Dillon believes he belongs in the NFL elite. After going 14-34 during Dillon's career in which he has never finished higher than ninth in rushing or 13th in combined yardage, the Bengals feels he's a solid back still looking to crack the elite....

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Marvin Demoff, Dillon's agent, said tonight his client isn't looking to match the George contract. But he thinks the deal shows some things.

"Corey's request surely isn't unreasonable in that light," Demoff said. "He's willing to defer to George on things like playing in the Super Bowl and the fact he's got one more year of service. But it shows the market is going up beyond backs like (Marshall) Faulk and (Terrell) Davis and that teams are willing to make commitments to a guy who has one year left on his contract. Corey has played out his contract."

In each of the last three seasons, George has finished in at least the NFL's top seven in rushing, and last year finished fourth in combined yardage when Dillon finished 13th. Dillon has always fared well in yards per carry. He has a 4.6 career average during a stretch in which George has averaged 3.8. George has one more rushing touchdown than Dillon during the past three years (20-19), but 10 of Dillon's came in his rookie year. George has three times as many touchdown catches with a 6-2 edge.

"No doubt this will be in Corey's mind," said Brown of the George contract. "The two things I would have to bring up are that we've allocated our (salary) cap money. We only have what we have. We've offered Corey a lot of money. It reflected (what) we thought was his performance. He has come in around nine, 10, 11, 12 in total yards for a running back in each of his three years and that's good. Eddie George has been better. We've won games because of Corey. We didn't go the Super Bowl with him. I'd like to. If we did, I think we would probably be looking at different numbers, but I don't apologize for what we've put out there (last month). It's in excess of $4 million a year. That's a lot of money."

Brown said the Bengals are looking to make a deal, but they are also prepared to turn to a stable of backs that include Michael Basnight, Brandon Bennett, Sedrick Shaw, Nick Williams and fourth-round draft choice Curtis Keaton. They have a combined 839 NFL yards on 204 carries. None have carried more than 77 times in a season, but they have shown flashes with a 4-yard per carry average.

"They might surprise us," Brown said. "I've seen those surprises. Just last year there was one in Denver when their good running back got hurt and the guy that went in did just about as well. That can happen. We've got some guys that would like to show that's how it will happen."

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