Dillon stiffs NFC

BY GEOFF HOBSON

ABC-TV billed it as "All-Star Sunday."

But for Bengals running back Corey Dillon, that didn't mean easing up and putting his stiff arm in a sleeve.

Dillon touched the ball seven times for 52 yards during the AFC's 38-17 victory over the NFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl with the highlight his signature stiff arm that buried defensive back Robert Griffith during his 25-yard catch.

Then after catching the dump pass over the middle from Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac in the second half, Dillon started thinking about what could be in his new playbook. He said he planned to check in with Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson and hopefully new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski later this week.

"I don't think they're going to kick me off," said Dillon, who can go on the free-agent market March 2.

Dillon could only shrug when Griffith approached him after the game and said, "You didn't have to do me like that."

"I told him, 'Nothing personal, I'm just playing,'" Dillon said Sunday night from Hawaii.

"That was just CD being CD," Dillon said. "It's an all-star game, but it's still football to me. I have to protect myself out there. I gave him the right hand special."

It's the same right hand Dillon delivered during his 1,435-yard season to such unsuspecting defensive backs as Denver's Terrell Buckley and Arizona's Aeneas Williams. After carrying just once and catching one pass in last year's 51-31 AFC loss, Dillon was thankful he could flex his muscles Sunday night on five carries for 16 yards and two catches for 36 yards. His longest run was a 10-yarder.

"I feel a lot better after this game than I did last year," Dillon said. "I got a little more work and we won. I think the coaches looked at our guys on film and saw what we could do and used that stuff. It was pretty much the same stuff we used."

Dillon continued to stick with the winning theme when asked if Sunday's game was his last wearing a Bengals' helmet as free agency approaches March 2.

"My first priority is to win," Dillon said. "No matter where I am. Cincinnati or somewhere else. Who's to say it can't be in Cincinnati? They're making some moves,

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trying some different things."

Dillon won't entertain thoughts on which teams might pursue him. Within the next two weeks, the Bengals expect to put the transition tag on Dillon's free agency.

That means if the Bengals tender Dillon a one-year offer of $3.6 million, which is the average of the NFL's top ten paid running backs, they have the right to match any team's offer.

"I have no idea," said Dillon when asked which teams he thinks will come after them. "Really, I haven't thought about it. I want to forget about it all for the next few weeks or so."

Leigh Steinberg has yet to make his first contact with the club since becoming Dillon's agent last month.

The Bengals haven't said if they will make Dillon another offer after he turned down a six-year, $38 million deal back in December. Dillon has said he wasn't aware of an eight-year, $60 million contract his ex-agents said the Bengals framed back in December.

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