4-13-01, 5:10 p.m. BY GEOFF HOBSON
Dick LeBeau won't trade Corey Dillon.
Mike Brown thinks the price is too high for a team to try it.
So, the Bengals move into Draft Week with the assumption they will re-sign the cornerstone of their power offense. But they do so while keeping a wary eye on what the Cleveland Browns do before them with the pick ahead of Cincinnati at No. 3.
With the Browns finding out just how strapped they are at running back at this week's minicamp, any Browns' selection that isn't a running back is going to crank speculation again that Cleveland will pursue Dillon in free agency.
The Bengals were on the verge of making a move in free agency themselves Friday. But the club can't convince Chargers cornerback DeRon Jenkins to put the team's right of first refusal into a one-year contract.
LeBeau said Friday he wouldn't be surprised
if the Bengals sign one or two free agents before the April 21-22 draft.
But Dillon has never left the front-burner. He stopped by Paul Brown Stadium Thursday and met with LeBeau in his office as Dillon made the rounds in the coaches' wing.
Asked Friday if he would be willing to trade Dillon for the Browns' third pick in the draft, LeBeau fired out his best Robert DeNiro.
"No," LeBeau said. "Are you talking to me?"
"No," LeBeau repeated. "The answer is Corey is a Bengal, where he ought to be. We build a lot of what we do around Corey Dillon. Would it be the same if Corey wasn't here?
"It probably would be because the head coach is not against running the ball every now and again," LeBeau said. "We believe in helping our athletes and we think an effective running game helps our athletes and we also believe we have to throw the ball at this level. But we believe a good, effective running game helps you throw the ball. We won't change from that. . . .We kind of feel that Corey Dillon is not too bad of a guy to fit that type of philosophy."
Brown has never ruled out trading any player for the right price, but said Friday, "The right price for Corey Dillon would be prohibitive for any team."
What the Bengals have to do is come up with a right price for Dillon in contract negotiations that have apparently yet to ignite even though Dillon and Brown have both said they want to get it done now.
Things will heat up on the Dillon front somewhere in Ohio after the draft. The Browns have said they would consider making a run at Dillon if the draft doesn't pan out for them.
Apparently newly signed running back Curtis Enis is still favoring his knee that was surgically reconstructed more than two years ago, and Errict Rhett is looking all of his 30 years.
Some Browns' observers suggest if they don't take a running back in either TCU's LaDanian Tomlinson or Mississippi's Deuce McAllister, their only option is Dillon.
One of the Bengals' options for a veteran cornerback remains Jenkins and Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, says they are "very close," to a deal. But Jenkins wants a straight one-year contract while the Bengals seek the right of first refusal when he goes into free agency next year.
"That protects us a little bit," Lippincott said. "We want a little more of a commitment. The right of first refusal works for both of us. He gets to go on the market. We get to keep him around if he plays well and we match."
The Bengals are going cautiously on Jenkins because he struggled in San Diego this past season after being one of the most pursued cornerbacks in 2000 free agency. It didn't help him that the Chargers' pass rush was banged up most of the year while Jenkins himself fought the injury bug.