BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.
Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon says he's willing to play this season for the Bengals if the club is willing to pay him a one-year deal comparable to the $3.5 million contract Stephen Davis recently signed in Washington.
"I'll let bygones be bygones," Dillon told bengals.com tonight. "I'll come in there, have my Pro Bowl-type season, keep focus, play hard and help this team get over the hump. Look, the system isn't working for them and the system isn't working for me. Let's throw the system out the window, sit down and work something out for a year that's fair, and let's go to war."
Bengals President Mike Brown wouldn't comment on the $3.5 million figure, but he said he was pleased to hear Dillon talk positively about 2000 and hopes a Wednesday call with agent Marvin Demoff is fruitful. After Bengals officials talked to Demoff today, Brown was discouraged, expecting Dillon to follow through on his threat to sit out the first 10 games. But his mood brightened tonight.
"It's encouraging," Brown said. "It's the first time we've heard something encouraging coming out of Corey about playing next year and it's a good sign."
Dillon said he's excited about the players who would be around him on offense. But he also said he's not desperate and plans to sit out the first 10 games if the money isn't right.
"We've got great athletes," Dillon said. "But the final piece of the puzzle is sitting in Seattle. If Mike wants to sign me, he can. If he doesn't, fine, I'll sit. I look at Stephen Davis and to me it's simple. If they don't want to pay me long term, then let's do the big deal for a year and I'll be on the first plane smoking. You know I'm in shape."
Dillon also commented on:
The Bengals argument he hasn't taken them to the Super Bowl while Titans running back Eddie George has taken Tennessee to the big game: "(Bengals right tackle) Willie Anderson hasn't been to the Super Bowl, but that didn't stop them from giving him a big contract. And it wasn't all Eddie George. They had a great defense, a great quarterback, great receivers. It's a team game."
On his five-year, $25.5 million proposal to the Bengals in which $10 million comes in the first year: "I never said I wanted an Eddie George deal. All I said was I wanted something near that because we've got numbers that are pretty close."
On sitting out virtually the entire season hurting his career: "It didn't hurt Joey Galloway in Seattle last year. It didn't hurt (Sean Gilbert) in Carolina or Dan Williams (in Kansas City). Why would it hurt me if it didn't hurt the other guys?"
The Bengals indicated they talked to Demoff earlier today and discussed possibly offering a one-year deal slightly more than the $1.37 million tender for restricted free agents. It's highly doubtful Dillon will look at that, since he hinted he would also want incentives on top of the $3.5 million. Davis could make as much as $5 million if he merely catches one touchdown pass.
In the past, the club has argued Dillon doesn't fit into the Anderson and George category because they were headed into unrestricted free agency while Dillon is a restricted free agent. But Brown offered an olive branch tonight with, "We've been trying to get a deal for months, so let's see what happens."
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Dillon is looking at Davis' deal because he sees a guy who had one big year last year (1,405 yards, 17 touchdowns) and is cashing in after four seasons in which he gained more than 567 yards just once. Dillon has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons and has gained more than 1,000 career yards than Davis.
"I love Stephen Davis," Dillon said. "He's a great back and a great guy. But look at our numbers."
There have been reports that Dillon has taken the Bengals negotiating stance personally because they've said he doesn't have the numbers of an elite running back. But tonight he said, "I can't make them pay me. If that's how they feel, there's nothing I can do about it. No matter what they think, I know I'm an important part of this team. But if we can get it done for a year, there'll be no problems, no negativity from me."
Dillon refused to speculate about next year, when it's assumed he would sign with another team. The Bengals reached a deal with the NFL Players Association two weeks ago in which they agreed to release wide receiver Carl Pickens in exchange for losing their franchise tag when free agency opens in February. They can tag Dillon with the transition tag, but he would probably get signed by another team because that club wouldn't have to give up compensation.
Brown wouldn't say how long he would keep the one-year tender in the $1.37 million range on the table. But he doesn't want Dillon reporting the week before the season because he fears an injury.
"If he doesn't come in soon enough to get ready to play, then all it is is a contract battle about leverage for the future," Brown said. "The year will be lost."