Dillon seeks blueprint

3-14-01, 3:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It looks like it's time for the Bengals and their Pro Bowl running back to start talking again.

In his first comments since becoming a free agent March 2, Dillon said he's still looking for the Bengals to show him their plan to become contenders.

"I (would) be in there to start negotiating a contract tomorrow, as soon as they tell me what they have planned to get to the Super Bowl and the playoffs," said Dillon, who called Bengals.com Wednesday to air his views. "Show me a bullet-proof plan that puts us back on the winning track and we can end all this. The only thing that matters to me is winning, winning, winning."

But the only thing planned for tomorrow at Paul Brown Stadium Thursday is quarterback Akili Smith and his receivers going on the practice field for the first time this offseason.

Still, Bengals President Mike Brown said the club welcomes getting together any time with Dillon and agent Leigh Steinberg.

"We haven't heard from them and we would like to sit down with them and talk," Brown said. "To me, this is a good sign. We would like to be able to get something done with them."

Dillon had no comment on the speculation swirling around his free-agent status in Cleveland and elsewhere. The Bengals, who can match any offer, would like to get a deal with him so they know where they stand under the salary cap while pursuing other free agents.

But in the four seasons Dillon has set two of the NFL's most sacred single-game rushing records, his team has gone 18-46. He made it clear he wants the Bengals to tell him what is in their game plan before he starts talking.

"I want to emphasize that I'm not being negative," Dillon said. "I don't mean to be negative. To me, this is positive. This is coming from my heart. I've got a passion and goals. I want to know what the team that says they want to keep me and need me is going to do to win."

Dillon, 26, insists this isn't a money issue. That's why he won't discuss reports of the $60 million deal he supposedly turned down from the Bengals back in December. Or the speculation he's having a tough time drawing interest on the market because the Bengals have the right to match and the NFL's salary-cap crunch. He feels all that obscures his main point:

Victories over money.

After making $3 million last year, Dillon openly acknowledges money is no longer the huge worry it was growing up in Seattle.

"People are wrong when they think it's about the money," Dillon said. "Do you think after last year I have to worry a lot about money?

"I like playing here. I love the fans. I like the people I'm around. I don't think I'm asking for too much. I think my teammates and the city of Cincinnati would like to know how they're going to get back to the Super Bowl and the playoffs. I think it should be out there in the public."

The Bengals are on record saying a new head coach and new coordinators on each side of the ball are at the heart of the bid to turn around a decade of drudgery.

They have used free agency more than ever with their 16 recruiting visits that are thought to lead the league. And LeBeau flew to Atlanta last month to speak with captains Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes about making changes in the off-season program that begins April 2.

But there's no question the biggest pin on the Bengals' blueprint is running the ball with Dillon. Last year he lugged the Bengals back to respectability after an 0-6 start with a 278-yard game that broke Walter Payton's all-time record and his 1,435 total yards is now the Bengals' season record.

And he's looking for answers.

"I'd like to hear about some things before I give them some of my ideas," Dillon said. "This is simple. Let's look at it all and then get on the same page."

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