BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon showed up at Spinney Field this morning fresh from a Los Angeles-Cincinnati redeye flight looking for some respect.
"Respect. I don't care if you don't like me," said Dillon before he and agent Marvin Demoff met with Bengals' officials to discuss a contract. "There's a lot of people in this world who aren't liked. But you're going to have to respect me. That's just the bottom line. That's how it's been for me for a long time."
At several points during the offseason, Dillon has indicated he's not getting the respect he thinks he deserves from the Bengals when he became a restricted free agent after gaining 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons in Cincinnati. But at least things were respectful as the sides began talks at 10:30 a.m. with Bengals executives Paul H. Brown, Katie Blackburn and Bill Scanlon speaking for the club and Dillon, Demoff and Demoff associate and long-time Dillon friend Darryl Henry for the other side.
After about 30 minutes, Dillon emerged and chatted with some teammates and reporters while he waited in the lobby leafing through some coffee table books. The entire group broke at noon, and while Bengals President Mike Brown hosted lunch in the cafeteria, Dillon played a video football game with a reporter in the locker room. It was in stark contrast to some of the ugliness that has erupted from stalled talks.
After the sides ate, Dillon went on a tour of Paul Brown Stadium with Troy Blackburn, the club's director of stadium operations, and Eric Ball, on his first day on the job as director of player development and community relations.
"I think he ought to see it because it's what is here now," Mike Brown said. "And it's different and good. If he wants to see everything that's involved with being here, he should see it because that's where he's going to work."
Dillon has been reportedly upset that Mike Brown hasn't gotten directly involved in the talks, but he has been told Brown has left the negotiations of the latest big deals to his children.
"They say Mike Brown doesn't have anything to do with that, so then maybe he shouldn't be in there," Dillon said. "If that's the position, that's fine with me. If those are the negotiators, then let's get them in there. That's great. I didn't want this to happen. I came to them last year because I knew this would happen if something didn't get done."
Quarterback Akili Smith almost fell over when he came to work this morning and saw Dillon sitting in the lobby.
"I had a dream about him last night," Smith said. "Then I walk in, and there he is. I just wish I could go to Mike Brown and say, 'Get it done, Mike.' But I can't. That's Mike's job, not mine and I'll stay out of it. I just wish he'd sign today, be at practice tomorrow and we'd be at full throttle."
Dillon is getting plenty to look at besides concrete and steel. The club has indicated it will offer a couple of short- and long-term packages beyond the five-year, $18.3 million proposal the Bengals sent him in late April.
"We've got a few different options that we're going to present them with and maybe one of them will grab their attention," said Bengals vice president Paul H. Brown today.
Demoff said he and Dillon come to town with "an open mind," but he did indicate they might have problems signing a contract that includes "The Carl Pickens Clause," in which a player can forfeit his signing bonus if he criticizes the club.
"It's unlikely I would sign it," Demoff said after arriving in Cincinnati late Sunday night. "But to be fair to the Bengals, I haven't seen the language yet and I'll hold off on saying something final until I read it."
Despite some of Dillon's strong anti-Bengal remarks during the offseason, Demoff said his client is willing to play in Cincinnati if he's treated like recent players coming into the fold. Dillon comes into these talks two weeks after right tackle Willie Anderson signed a six-year extension and a week after Peter Warrick signed the club's quickest first-round deal in seven years.
"When they've gone after people they've wanted to keep, they've kept them," Demoff said. "I think it's going to be up to them if Corey is going to be one of those. There's no magic number. That's not fair to them or us. We'll see what they have in mind."
A key issue could be the June 15 deadline, which is Thursday. If Dillon doesn't accept the one-year tender of $1.37 million by then, the Bengals say they'll invoke their right to slash the offer to a 10-percent raise over last season's $503,300 salary to about $553,000.
"Let's put it like this," Demoff said. "If both sides think talks are progressing and the offer is still cut, then, yes, I would think that would set things way back."
Executive vice president Katie Blackburn says the team is "very flexible," and will give Dillon a look at both long- and short-term deals. There's also that one-year, $1.37 million tender on the table that will be cut to $553,000 by June 15 if Dillon doesn't take it.
"We've got one offer that's along the lines of the (April offer)," Blackburn said. "We've got some others, too. There are advantages to a longer deal and some to a shorter deal. But I have no idea what to expect Monday."
That's because the Bengals aren't sure if Dillon wants to even do a deal and stay with the Bengals after his offseason of long-distance lambasting them. They haven't received a counter offer since they sent their $3.6 million annual proposal, but he's told the media he think he's at least a $5 million per year player and indicated he's looking for more than right tackle Willie Anderson's $5.1 million per year. He's threatened to sit out the first 10 games of the season rather than take the tender.
The Bengals have a little less than $2 million under the salary cap because they still haven't released Carl Pickens as they continue to wait on settlement talks between the NFL and the NFLPA on a variety of issues.
Dillon and the Bengals each have persuasive arguments about why they are on opposite sides of the $5 million annual figure. The Bengals are offering Dillon $3.66 million per year (and have never said that's their final offer), which is more than Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott, Philadelphia's Duce Staley and San Francisco's Charie Garner. They think that's a good deal for a guy who has never finished higher than 11th in combined rushing/receiving yardage in a season or ninth in rushing in the NFL. In seven games last season against defenses that finished ranked in the NFL's top 12, he had one 100-yard game.
But Dillon is a proven, productive back. It's all about first downs and Dillon finished fourth in percentage of carries in which he earned a first down last year, ahead of Curtis Martin ($5.4 million per year) and behind Faulk ($4.7M), which averages just about $5M. Dillon may have scored only five rushing touchdowns last year, but his 12 carries of 20 yards or more tied Garner as best in the NFL. Emmitt Smith ($5.3 million per year), had 10, Faulk, Edgerrin James ($7 million) and Martin all had nine. Dillon's 4.6 yards per carry was tied for fourth with Robert Smith ($5 million).
"We'll find out if they want to get it done," Brown said. "We'll go as far as we can with what we've got left to spend. If that doesn't do it, we'll know where the other stands."