BY GEOFF HOBSON,GEORGETOWN, Ky.
John Clayton, ESPN's pro football guru, has done what most of the media hasn't done in the past two weeks. Talk to Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon. Clayton, based in Dillon's hometown of Seattle, was here at the Bengals training camp today and offered some insights.
Clayton has talked to enough of Dillon's high school and junior college coaches to know playing football has been his anchor for much of his life and he wonders if Dillon can turn his back on it for the season's first 10 games as he has threatened.
"You get the feeling he really doesn't want to be here, but he doesn't say exactly why," Clayton said. "The fact he's keeping in touch with some of his teammates and still negotiating shows me he's playing both sides. But when you talk to him, it sounds like a no-doubter for him that he'll sit. He hasn't really ripped the team, but it's been more about how he's feeling about himself as opposed to,'I hate this organization for this reason.' He hasn't been specific. He's been more general and it seems like both sides could get beyond that."
Dillon has turned down contract offers from the Bengals for two, five and six years. The latest is a six-year deal that averages $5 million per year including incentives, as well as nearly $3 million in the first year. When the Bengals said they planned to talk to him him about a one-year deal Monday, Dillon's people indicated he wanted similar numbers to the franchise tender of one year of $3.5 million for running backs that Washington's Stephen Davis just signed.
Bengals President Mike Brown said Dillon can take the tender, too. But that would be the restricted free agent's one-year tender of $1.37 million. The Bengals argue Dillon has yet to qualify for the franchise tag because he's got just three years of service.
To those who say the fact he becomes a virtual free agent after the season makes it easier for him to sit out, Clayton pointed to his makeup.
"His coaches have said how important playing football is to him," Clayton said. "He has a good maritial situation now, but for the longest time when he might have had problems at school or some place, football was the one thing that was always there for him."
Clayton thinks Dillon's number falls in between those of Davis and the $7 million average Eddie George signed in Tennessee with $14 million guaranteed. Clayton doesn't think he deserves George's contract ("He hasn't taken them to the Super Bowl."), but he looks at the seven-year, $56 million deal offered to Davis and knows Dillon has two more 1,000-yard seasons and 1,239 more career yards.
"I think Dillon's offer of ($10 million) in the first year is right in the market," Dillon said. "But an $8 million bonus and $2 million salary is a little unreasonable because the Bengals are up against the salary cap. That's the kind of deal the Bengals used to do because they could take a $3 million cap hit in the first year. But they can't do that now because of the contracts for Willie Anderson and Akili Smith and the draft picks."
By the way, Clayton's take on the Bengals is scheduled to be on espn.com some time today.
ANDERSON BACKING OFF: **Right tackle Willie Anderson's sore left foot isn't back to full strength and he's been resting it now and again during the first three days of training camp. It should help that he made weight when he hit camp at 340 pounds, even though his contract incentive doesn't kick in until the season for making that weight.
"I want to play the season at 330, 335 pounds, so this is a good start because I'll lose some weight now," Anderson said. "The foot's OK, but we were getting it ready for the voluntary camps and it's not ready to explode off for 30 straight days. Being right-sided and stepping first with my right foot, my second is where I get my power. And I brace with my left foot on the bull rushers."
INJURY UPDATE:S Lawrence Wright (bruised ribs) didn't practice today. LB Adrian Ross (bruised ribs) left practice. CB Rodney Heath got precautionary X-Rays after bruising his back. DE Vaughn Booker couldn't finish practice because of illness, but nobody is expected to miss a significant amount of time. WR Peter Warrick worked in drills and from scrimmage, but didn't catch punts to rest a nicked ankle.