3-26-04, 4:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Corey Dillon saga heads south this weekend when the NFL owners convene in Palm Beach, Fla., for their annual meeting, but no one knows if rubbing elbows at the posh Breakers resort is going to yield a trade of their unhappy career rushing leader.
It did two years ago for Buffalo in Orlando, Fla., when the Bills used those meetings to initiate talks with the Patriots for quarterback Drew Bledsoe for a trade that was consummated a month later on Draft Weekend. But there has been nothing to suggest in the media or elsewhere that there is a summit scheduled between Bengals President Mike Brown and Raiders owner Al Davis regarding Dillon.
The main stories coming out of Palm Beach league-wide are going to be making instant replay permanent and curbing the Chad Johnsons of the world by penalizing excessive celebrations for 15 yards. Both measures have been recommended to ownership by the NFL Competition Committee, but the only story for Bengals' fans is if someone comes out of the gables to reverse a NFL trend and come up with a Dillon trade that is to the club's liking.
At the moment, there appears to be nothing on the table for Dillon that is a second-round draft pick, which is reportedly what the Bengals want. And no one appears to be even close by offering a third-round draft pick. And, no one at the moment appears ready to give up a high draft pick in exchange for a veteran running back with two years left on a manageable but still healthy contract.
"In the last couple of years, teams have started holding on to draft picks because they give you talented players with a good salary cap number. At least for a couple of years," said one NFL general manager. "This has always been a league where trades rarely happened, and now there are more ramifications because of the cap. Either the guy's bonus accelerates too much for one team, or the salary is too much for the team getting him."
As late as last month at the NFL scouting combine, a smattering of general managers and personnel people thought the Bengals could get a first-day pick for Dillon, but apparently none have been offered.
Although the Ravens did get a second-round pick for a wide receiver who is a year older and has caused more problems in Terrell Owens, the deal got negated and he ended up going for just a fifth, as well as a starting defensive end. A young game-breaking receiver in David Boston went from the Chargers to the Dolphins for a conditional sixth-rounder and a backup cornerback. Former Pro Bowlers John Lynch Todd Steussie, and Jason Gildon didn't get a sniff on the trading block and got released
The Titans got a second-round pick from the Jets for a young wide receiver with fewer than 100 career catches, but Jason McCareins was a restricted free agent and youthful enough to have a workable cap number. Trading for a veteran that has one or two years left on a contract at a relatively big number in exchange for a draft pick that has a lower cap number isn't all that attractive to many teams.
As one league personnel man asked Don Banks of SI.com a few weeks ago, "If Pittsburgh doesn't want to pay Jason Gildon $5 million this year, why should I?"
Dillon's salary of $3.3 million for 2004 is pretty manageable. But not right now for the Raiders, the team that has been welded to Dillon through this offseason. After they whisked Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp out of Cincinnati in the dead of night last weekend, the Raiders look to be dangerously close to under $1 million in cap room.
Any team that would trade for Dillon would probably have to re-structure his contract, but they also have to have $3.3 million of room when they do the trade.
Which means the Bengals and the team have to work out a deal, Dillon's agent has to work out a deal with the other team, everyone has to agree on everything and all that means is that it's hard to pull off.
"It's a complicated thing and it can't happen overnight," said the general manager. "It takes time, more than a few days and conversations."
But Dillon is clearly hoping a conversation takes place in Florida that pushes things along. Steve Feldman, his agent, plans to go to the meetings, apparently to try and facilitate a trade. But sometimes that doesn't always help.
Just ask Steve Zucker, Carl Pickens' old agent. When the disgruntled Pickens chafed under the Bengals' franchise tag as a free agent early in 1999, Zucker approached Brown at the league meetings at the Biltmore in Arizona with the hope of getting permission to find a trade for Pickens.
Zucker got an index finger close to the chest a few times as Brown pointedly told Zucker the Bengals had every right under the collective bargaining agreement to restrict Pickens in the hopes he would re-sign even though he had expressed his displeasure.
Dillon is a different story because he has two years left on his contract, but that "fulfill-your-contract principle" may make Brown even more adamant that the Bengals are going to hold their ground until they get what they want.
Maybe Brown can work something out with Davis, although there is nothing to suggest there have been any kind of on-going talks. They are so different, yet so alike. They run their teams very similarly, they are usually in the minority on league matters, and they have a bond from the old AFL, pre-merger days. So maybe they'll talk.
But nobody knows. Brown isn't talking and neither is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
As for other items of interest in Palm Beach, Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson isn't discouraged that the owners look like they are going to add the demonstration 15-yard penalty to the rule book in order to cut down on the celebrations.
"Don't call us the no fun league," said Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, during a conference call earlier this week.
"This has nothing to do with the Lambeau leap, the spike, the sack dance or throwing the ball over the goal post. But the demonstrations are becoming more sophisticated and more pre-planned than they've ever been. That's why we focused on a penalty instead of just a fine."
The NFL is emphasizing celebrations of involving more than one player, but the competition committee ruled that the sign Johnson displayed after scoring a touchdown against the 49ers last season would cost him 15 yards this season.
Under the new rules, he also would have been flagged in Cleveland when the other wide receivers gathered in the end zone to take "snapshots," of him after a touchdown. He did get a 15-yard penalty against Seattle for making a gesture to the throat after a score even though it meant he wasn't going to throw his helmet into the crowd.
"I'll just have to ask the refs before the game," Johnson said. "I'll run by them what I've got planned. I want to keep the fans on the edge of their seats, but you can't hurt the team."
The new instant replay proposal would make it permanent instead of needing 24 of the 32 teams to approve it each year. The competition committee also is recommending that any coach who gets two successful challenges in a game get one more. The Bengals have always been the staunchest of the anti-replay faction.