Dillon gets it done

5-12-01, 1:05 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

In the end, the Bengals praised Corey Dillon for knowing the difference between real money and fake money.

In the end, Dillon's agents praised the Bengals for stepping up to the table and giving their client one of the best running back deals in history even though they had all the leverage.

Wasn't it just last year that Dillon said he would rather flip hamburgers than play for the Bengals? And now they are serving him filet mignon?

"We've gotten to know Corey pretty well. We've been through a lot together," said Bengals President Mike Brown Friday night. "That's why we have a lot of admiration for him. I think he's been given a bit of a bad rap publicly and I think he's going to set that straight over the next five years.

"The nice thing about this is that he earned it," Brown said. "He got it by going out on the field and doing it every year."

The turning point in the negotiations? A source close to the talks said it occurred fairly early Thursday. That's when the Bengals stopped comparing Dillon to the running backs who had re-signed with their teams during this offseason the Giants' Tiki Barber and the Steelers' Jerome Bettis and

started talking about the top backs in the league.

Dillon wasn't interested in the total $42 million package Eddie George signed last year, because he knew George probably won't be around the last two seasons to make the whopping salaries designed to inflate the total amount.

It's believed Dillon wanted and got more than what George got in the first three years ($17 million) because he knew he would see that money and not get cut at age 29.

"That's like asking a marathoner when the turning point was in the race," said agent David Dunn, who spent

the better part of 13 hours negotiating with Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn on Thursday.

"You just keep going until you finish and don't think about it," Dunn said.

The final irony is Dillon, the guy who made so much noise in 2000 about getting out of Cincinnati, probably did more than anyone to secure his future here in 2001.

For the first time in his career, Dillon moved his off-season home from Seattle to Cincinnati. He made sure he stopped by the office now and then to chat with Brown and head coach Dick LeBeau.

And on Sunday night, it was Dillon who made it happen.

With Cleveland saying publicly the Browns wouldn't pursue him in free agency and potential suitors New England and Kansas City frozen by salary cap demands, Dillon challenged the Bengals and prodded his own agents to get a deal done Friday.

And it happened Friday, prompting Dunn, the estimable negotiator emerging from Leigh Steinberg's shadow, to salute his client.

"I think we were all frustrated with the process and Corey let some of the frustration spill out," Dunn said. "But Corey has a strong sense of what he wants in the world and had as much to do with anyone as far as getting it done."

Dillon got more than any Bengal in history. More than franchise free-agent Carl Pickens in 1999. More than right tackle Willie Anderson last year. More than franchise quarterback Akili Smith has averaged in his first three seasons.

The reports say $5 million per year and just because he's not talking about it doesn't mean he's sulking.

"Corey is happy. He's relieved. He feels vindicated. He feels like he's got the respect he deserves," said Joby Branion, who worked with Dunn in negotiations. "He likes to lay low. But he comes to play every game. He's a blue-collar guy."

Dillon fits his adopted town well. He didn't want a news conference at least on Friday because he's not a microphone-and-camera-and-sound-bite guy.

He didn't want to tell the world how many times over he was a millionaire.

"It was matter of respect and it was a long time coming to him," Branion said. "It's a special contract, but he's a special running back."

Anderson can't wait to see Dillon at Tuesday's voluntary practice. For the second straight year, Dillon missed last week's minicamp because he was unsigned.

"It's going to be strange to see him out there," said Anderson, who thought last year's holdout hurt him.

"The first few games and basically the early season-games are his training camp," Anderson said. "He didn't get adjusted until the middle of the season. He didn't have his patience, but once he got going, you couldn't stop him."

Indeed, in the first six games, Dillon averaged 54 yards, 80 in the last 10.

"We had a contingency as high as we've ever kept it," Brown said of the club's right to match on Dillon. "If you dare sign him, you sign him for us. We did that on purpose and it worked. We need him and need him to be in the spirit because he makes this team better. I plan to meet him next week and congratulate him. He earned it."

Dillon didn't pull the trigger until 7:30 p.m. Friday even though the deal was pretty much done Thursday night. Dillon wanted to sleep on it, but the problem was he got virtually no sleep from the time he broke up with Dunn and Branion at 2 a.m. until he had to take his wife to a 7 a.m. appointment.

"He played his cards right," Brown said. "He was sensible."

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