5-10-01, 3:00 p.m.
Updated: 5-10-01, 9:10 p.m.
Updated: 5-11-01, 12:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals are encouraged after 12-hour talks with the agents for Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and hoped they could nail down a long-term deal for their marquee player Friday.
All signs at least pointed to a succcessful negotiation. After meeting with David Dunn and Joby Branion all day Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn continued the talks over the phone until about 11:15 p.m.
But Blackburn stopped short of saying a deal is imminent and said the sides plan to sit down again Friday morning at the stadium.
"We're about ready to stop for the night and start it up again in the morning," Blackburn said. "I'm encouraged. I thought the talks were productive. Both sides are trying very hard."
After challenging the Bengals and stirring his own agents last Sunday night with a call for both sides to go into a room on Friday and not leave until a deal was done, Dillon welcomed Dunn and Branion a day early.
The agents met with Blackburn before 10 a.m. and when the sides broke at 5 p.m., the agents met with Dillon for dinner to discuss the club's latest proposal. The negotiations then continued over the phone. Dillon didn't attend the meetings, but was apparently with his agents when talks moved to the phone.
The only break during the day came when the agents had lunch with Blackburn and the team at the stadium after the veterans had a voluntary workout.
Earlier Thursday, while Dillon made his pitch for an Eddie George-like deal of $6 million per year, he didn't think the talks would stretch past the weekend.
"Dude, what's to talk about?" Dillon asked. "I'm not asking for world. Just what I'm worth."
Dillon said he wanted the sides to break the ice before he stepped into the negotiations "at the rough spots."
Dillon, bristling at the Bengals' concept of comparative bargaining, warned the club not to stack him up against running backs who made a deal this year after just one big season.
"I can match up with Eddie (George) all day," Dillon said. "Some of those guys have more carries than I do. . .Eddie's been to a couple of playoffs, been to the Super Bowl. He's also had a great supporting cast. If they bring that up, there's nothing I can do about that.
"Don't compare me to somebody who's got 1,000 yards and just a break-out season last year," Dillon said. " I guess my four years and my records don't mean too much if that's the tactic that's going to be taken."
In his first four seasons, Dillon, who owns two of the seven best rushing days in NFL history, has rushed for 4,894 yards and 26 touchdowns on 1,073 carries for 4.6 yards per carry. He also set the NFL single-game rushing record last year with 278 yards. He also has 104 catches for 885 yards and two touchdowns in his career.
During his first four seasons, George, the Pro Bowler of the Titans, rushed for 5,365 yards and 28 touchdowns on 3.9 yards per carry. He had 114 catches for 994 yards and four touchdowns. In his fifth season last year, George outrushed Dillon, 1,509-1,435, and caught 50 balls to Dillon's 18.
Dillon wants no comparisons to the free-agent running backs who have re-signed with their teams this season. The Giants' Tiki Barber rushed for 935 total yards in his first three years in the league before getting 1,006 this season. He then re-upped for six years at about $22 million with $3.5 million up front. The deal George signed back in July is for seven years at $42 million with a $14 million bonus spread over last year and this year.
"I understand the process," Dillon said. "But don't compare me to
somebody not even close and want to really argue it. That's crazy."
Dillon has now officially broken the NFL record for the most time spent in a locker room by an unsigned free agent. As he greeted teammates at his locker, he was clearly sick of dealing with a contract negotiation for the second straight year. Actually three, because he openly wondered about a new deal in the 1999 minicamp as he went into the last year of his rookie deal.
He did set in motion Thursday's buzz of activity when he issued a challenge earlier in the week for both sides not to leave the room until they got a deal.
"I've been (stolen) from enough," Dillon said. "I've been cheated enough. Those days are over. I just want to be treated fairly. I just want to be treated like everybody else. I know some people aren't treated fairly and I've been on that end of the stick for a long time. It's time to reverse that. I stepped forth."
Dillon, who played for $3 million last season, had no reaction to the Browns' admission earlier this week that Cleveland has no interest in pursuing him. Except to say he wants to get a deal here.
"If we can get a long-term deal, I'm here. I don't have a problem with that," Dillon said. "My career would be much more satisfying if I stick it out and turned this around. It would be much more special.
"(As a free agent) you could go to a team that's already established as a winner or stick it out here, sweat and shed tears with the guys, and bring the program back where it needs to be. It would a little bit more special the way I want to do it. That's to tough it out."