BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon sent his message to Bengals management early and often today at Spinney Field when he sat in a car for 60 minutes, in the lobby for another 30, and never made it into president Mike Brown's office.
That's where contract talks for the Pro Bowl running back broke off today at noon with agent Marvin Demoff and associate Darryl Henry. That sent the even more disgruntled Dillon back to Seattle with his plan to sit out the first 10 games of the season and Brown back into possible trade talks.
Demoff said he was glad Dillon wasn't part of this morning's talks and believes the rift between his client and the Bengals is "ruptured beyond repair."
"Corey feels they've shown him no respect and he's agitated," Demoff said from Los Angeles tonight. "It was best he wasn't in there to hear more negativity. The trip was good in the sense there was clarity. They've decided they don't want to pay him what he thinks he deserves."
Demoff brought up the Bengals trading Dillon, pointing to Sammy Sosa's impending deal in baseball, as the best solution.
"Right now, both parties are more interested in using the system against each other than talking to each other," Demoff said. "I told Mike when there is a disagreement like this, there's usually a trade to get some value. If the Cubs can trade Sammy Sosa, the Bengals can certainly trade Corey.".
"They inquired if we would trade him, feeling at this point it's the easiest solution," Brown said. "That if we would trade him and send both of us on our ways. We would always consider a trade. It would have to be a price that makes sense to us. I don't have that price in mind just yet. It's an option."
Other fallout from the talks that fell through:
The Bengals are leaning to not chasing veteran free agents such as cornerback Phillippi Sparks, running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar and tight end Ben Coates because they still want enough money to sign Dillon later. Signing one or two of those free agents would eat up enough salary cap room to nix a Dillon deal.
They can now hold on to wide receiver Carl Pickens longer because of salary cap room. His release remains pending an agreement between the league the NFL Players Association regarding the franchise player tag
As Demoff said Monday night after the talks broke at 10:15, "I think there's an honest difference of opinion on Corey's market value," and today Dillon was still looking for $5 million per year and a bigger signing bonus. Brown said Demoff turned down a deal that would have paid Dillon $5.1 million per year starting in 2001 with a signing bonus figured to be in about the same range. This season's salary would be $1.371 million, the highest tender offer for a restricted free agent.
"We came up about $700,000 from last night on the extension," Brown said. "Marvin recommended a two-year deal (in the $7 million range), but Corey turned it down. Marvin recommended he sign the one-year tender, and he didn't want to do that. So we tried the long-term deal and it just didn't go anywhere."
The Bengals said they'll invoke their right Thursday under the collective bargaining agreement and slash Dillon's offer from $1.371 million to $553,000. But the club said it could restore the tender if Dillon reports on time July 21 by giving him a reporting bonus that jacks this year's take back to $1.371 million.
"We're willing to still talk to them, to still do a long-term or sign the tender," Brown said. "We're reducing the offer to protect ourselves if he's not going to come until halfway through the season. Why pay him at the higher rate than we can pay him the lower rate? But look, we don't go to camp for about six more weeks and don't start the regular season until six weeks after that. We've got time to still talk."
Dillon was in no mood to talk, confused why a 1,000-yard runner for all three of his seasons can't get a deal worthy of an elite running back. Or even a journeyman like James Stewart, who hit the $5 million lottery in free agency. Dillon wonders how the Bengals can use stats against him when they gave him the ball 17 times per game and he set a rookie rushing record of 246 yards against a Titans' defense ranked among the NFL's best when they met in 1997.
The Bengals look at the "elite," backs and see players who have signed the mega deals in years following championship seasons. They think they've got a solid offer out to a solid back who has never finished higher than ninth in NFL rushing.
"I think that he puts himself in a category that's higher than we put him in," Brown said. "How much is that negotiating, I'm not sure."
The Bengals negotiating team of Brown, vice presidents Paul H. Brown, Katie Blackburn and chief financial officer Bill Scanlon, knew a deal was virtually impossible as they watched Dillon sit in the car while Demoff and Henry talked.
"I think that sent a message he didn't expect anything productive today," Mike Brown said, although he thought Dillon would play here despite his bitterness if the numbers were right. "The impression I got is that it's strictly a dollar issue. We didn't hit his magic number."
The first trade option is Kansas City, although the Bengals aren't pleased with how the Chiefs have publicly coveted Dillon even after Cincinnati turned down their Draft Day advances. The Chiefs dangled the 21st pick in the draft, but when Seattle took Alabama running back Shaun Alexander at No. 19, the deal was dead because Cincinnati didn't think there was another replacement for Dillon in the draft.