BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, upset at the Bengals' "Five Day Letter," has instructed agent Marvin Demoff not to meet with the team next week in Atlanta or to travel to Cincinnati to negotiate with the club.
Demoff said today that the letter was "inappropriate," and that the Bengals are only penalizing themselves by using their rights under the collective bargaining agreement. By informing Dillon at least five days before the second preseason game that they plan to use the CBA, Dillon is ineligible for the first three games of the season if he doesn't agree to a contract before the last preseason game.
"It's a peculiar move if you want to compete. I'm sure Brian Billick, Chris Palmer and Tom Coughlin are happy to hear the news," said Demoff of the head coaches for Baltimore, Cleveland and Jacksoville. "A few days before, Corey was upbeat and open about signing a one-year deal. Now he feels like the Bengals have slapped him in the face."
But Bengals president Mike Brown said tonight the move was designed merely to speed up the negotiations and get Dillon to the table. He says the club has been told in the last few phone calls that Dillon's side wasn't ready to talk until they talked to the player.
"We wanted to put pressure on both sides," Brown said. "It's a mechanicism that serves to move the negotiations forward. We don't view it as any more than that. If they don't want to meet, they don't have to. But that would be foolish at this point because there is pressure on both sides. If Corey wants to negotiate, if Marvin wants to negotiate, we're open to meet with them, but it's time to get down to brass tacks."
The Bengals talked to the agent for second-round pick Mark Roman just before tonight's preseason opener against the Bills and there is still no agreement. The sides have agreed on some kind of incentive to make up for not having a voidable year, but the Bengals want it to be annual while Roman wants it for just one year.
Demoff said the letter just reinforces Dillon's belief that the Bengals don't really want him and wonders what his teammates would say if he shows up and has to watch three games on the sidelines.
"They could have just deactivated him, now they don't have any flexibility," Demoff said. "This letter just bewilders him."
Brown said a major reason to invoke the club's rights is because the Bengals don't want a repeat of the Carl Pickens situation after Pickens signed his long-term contract three days before last season's regular-season opener.
"We want him ready to come in and play the season," Brown said. "We don't want to pay him and go through a deal like we did with Pickens when he wasn't in shape and ready to go and he just showed up."
* SCOTT WATCHING:*Wide receiver Darnay Scott's broken left leg is still giving him some pain, but he planned to watch the game from his Deaconess Hospital room.
"I'm ready to see my boys," Scott said. "Tell them all I'll be watching them. Especially the wide receivers. I want to see somebody step up."
Scott saw two non-receivers stand up right away. The Bengals don't elect their season-long captains until the regular season, but right tackle Willie Anderson and outside linebacker Takeo Spikes look to be leading candidates and they took the coin flip tonight.
* MUNOZ ANXIOUS, TOO:* Hall of Fame Bengals tackle Anthony Munoz is at the analyst's mike for tonight's game and he admits it's tough not to cheer.
"I'm a Bengal," Munoz said. "I wonder if the players and coaches realize that I want them to do well I want them to win. I enjoy doing the preseason because I like to see the progress these guys make from training camp to the regular season."
Like any Bengal follower, he's anxious to see Warrick: "You have to be after watching him in the national championship game. The guy's a playmaker. Even with Darnay out, maybe he can do something."
Munoz just returned from the star-studded reunion of 108 Hall-of-Famers in Canton last week, and he's still tingling.
"I'll be back there every year," said Munoz, who was inducted two years ago. "What an experience to be with those guys and talk to them. First of all, you have to keep pinching yourself to make sure you're really there. I wish there could be a videotape of what they have to say. The passion, the privilege of playing in the league, and show it to all the guys playing now."
* OLD FRIEND:*Tom Donahoe, the former director of football operations for the Steelers, still isn't working for a club. But he will be soon, somewhere. Meanwhile, he's scouting any game he can get to. Tonight, he made the three-hour drive here from Pittsburgh to catch the Bengals and Bills. He's been a big fan of quarterback Akili Smith and wanted to get a look at him.
"I thought he had the best arm of all those guys that were drafted last year," Donahoe. "He can really throw the ball and he's accurate. But you've got to do more than that."
Donahoe likes the looks of the quarterback drafted just ahead of Smith in Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb ("He's a great athlete,") and thinks the Eagles could surprise with an up-and-coming defense that boasts three solid cornerbacks.
As for Cleveland, Donahoe said they probably won't give up the big rushing days of last year with the additions to their defensive line of No. 1 pick Courtney Brown and free agents of Orpheus Roye (Pittsburgh) and Keith McKenzie (Green Bay).