Dillon, Bengals make peace
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ATLANTA, Ga.-Mike Brown's $3 million present arrived on his birthday today in the form of Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon. When Brown ran into him here tonight in the lobby of the team hotel, he caught a reporter's eye and hugged Dillon around the shoulders.
"He'd like a picture of that, wouldn't he?" Brown asked Dillon as they broke into laughter. "We're glad to have you here."
Dillon smiled back and said the same thing and told Brown that he had a beautiful stadium. Dillon will help christen Paul Brown Stadium next Saturday against the Bears when he plays in his first preseason game.
"Thank you," Brown said. "It's our stadium."
Exactly a week ago, the only place you could get a scene like that is if someone drew it in an editorial cartoon. The Bengals had just raised Dillon's ire by putting a deadline on him in an effort to end his contract stalemate, a year-long snafu that ended Wednesday with Dillon accepting a one-year $3 million deal with $1 million of it upfront.
So today he showed up, signed the last piece of paper, passed the physical and weighed in at the high 220s, just about right.
And not only that tonight, there was Dillon saying not to assume too much about next year. Everyone figures he'll leave as a transition free agent after the season. But Dillon said, "I'll talk to anybody. I'm not going to say I won't listen because that won't be fair. If they want to get something done, I'm going to listen. And if it's something I want to do, then it's a done deal."
In Dillon's mind, it all came down to fairness. No one has ever paid a restricted free agent more than $1.6 million higher than the tender like the Bengals did with him.
And despite the Bengals going public about how he didn't have the numbers of the NFL's elite running backs, and Dillon's crack about preferring to flip hamburgers, and the disastrous June summit that ended with Dillon fuming in a car, this is still Dillon's team and Dillon is still the Bengals' meal ticket.
That was clear right away today as Dillon hurried on to the Bengals charter for the flight here for Friday's preseason game. He had been on the ground barely an hour from his 6 a.m. flight from Seattle to Cincinati. As he came on the plane, he shook hands with the Brown family, coach Bruce Coslet and team officials and responded, "Good to be back," when someone said it was good to see him.
"Mike grabbed my arm and told me he was glad to have me back and to let's go win some games," Dillon said. "I think he was looking at me like, 'You're one tough SOB.' Nah, not really. Mike knows that things can get out of hand and people say stuff they don't mean. Things like that happen. Things got out of hand. There were some bad things said on my part, some bad things said on their part. But in my mind, it's over. It would make no sense to have animosity. Instead, let's help each other."
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It didn't take running backs coach Jim Anderson long to start helping Dillon. On the plane, Anderson gave him his playbook and Falcons game plan, which he doesn't really need because he'll only suit up and not play. As they checked into the hotel, Dillon had the game plan out and was telling Anderson he needed to ask him something.
"That was first thing on the list. Get with J.A.," Dillon said. "Just fine-tuning my Bengal playbook knowledge. There's some new pass routes and some new formations. It's time to get chiseled and go to work."
There's some new formations because there are new receivers and Dillon loves what he sees. He said a chill went through him when he read of receiver Darnay Scott's season-ending broken leg. But he's also looking at the new kids.
"Are you kidding me?" he asked. "We've got (Craig) Yeast and (Peter) Warrick and (Ron) Dugans. Sorry. I mispronounced his name. Dugans. We've got some weapons."
Dillon is a weapon, too. He thinks he's better than where the Bengals rated him.
"I feel I'm one of the top running backs in the league," Dillon said. "If I'm not in the top five, then I believe it's the top ten."
The Bengals think if Dillon finishes anyhwere like that this year, the season will go as far as the relationship has come with their former disgruntled Pro Bowler.