4-19-04, 4:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis and Corey Dillon had their wishes granted Monday when the Bengals traded their disenchanted running back to the Super Bowl champion Patriots for a second-round draft pick.
Lewis not only received the club's fifth choice out of the 96 on the first day of Saturday's NFL Draft in exchange for Dillon, but he also rid himself of a player that never endeared himself to the Bengals' new regime and never missed a chance to lobby himself out of town.
The Bengals' bid to mold Cincinnati into a younger roster more committed to Lewis' program has now netted the Bengals two trades in 10 days, 10 choices on draft weekend, and seven picks in the first 117 choices that take them into the middle of the fourth round.
For his part, Dillon, 29, the Bengals' all-time rushing leader as one of 28 men to gain more than 8,000 yards, gets a chance at his oft-stated goal of playing in a Super Bowl with a team that has won two of the last three titles.
Circle Dec. 12, 2004. The Bengals and Dillon line up at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., as Cincinnati prepares to play one of its greatest players.
But circle this one first. Dillon returns to Paul Brown Stadium Aug. 21 for the Bengals-Pats pre-season game.
"I think everybody pretty much broke even," Dillon told a conference call Monday evening. "We're talking about the New England Patriots. This is a Super Bowl team. They're the defending Super Bowl champs. They got exactly what they wanted. I guess Cincinnati got exactly what they wanted. Corey Dillon got exactly what he wanted. I'm happy and I'm a part of a great organization. It's a good deal all around.
Now comes one of the NFL's great questions for the next five months. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has expertly crafted a dynasty in which the golden rule is no player is bigger than the team and where no player questions the coach's authority. Now he welcomes one of the more vocal stars of the game who called one of his teammates "a bum," on a national television show last month.
But Steve Feldman, Dillon's agent, said the Bengals gave permission for Belichick to talk to Dillon before the trade. Then, the Pats re-structured his deal so he's not making $3.3 million this year, but he probably got some money up front in the two-year deal.
"It was just your basic questions," Dillon said of Belichick. "It wasn't really him asking me questions, but more him trying to get a feel for me and I think he got a great vibe from me and realized, 'Hey, this guy is a good guy and maybe the situation in Cincinnati was just blown way out of proportion.' As we sat down and met for a long time, him and (Patriots director of player personnel) Scott Pioli got to know me, and everything was fine. I think that kind of threw away the perception that I was a bad guy."
Dillon has been openly calling for this day since last October as the frustration of his first major injury, a torn groin, ate at him.
"Get it done. Make me happy," Dillon said then. "This thing has been lingering around for years and years. This is my confession. Change is good. Change is very good. The question is, do I want to see myself here next year. Dude, plug me into a Denver, Plug me into a Dallas, I'd have the rushing title hands down, period. Put me in a different situation and you hear my name every Sunday. These are things I know."
They should be able to find his name in Boston, too, as the Pats seek to replace the pedestrian Antowain Smith and the undersized Kevin Faulk with their first star running back since Curtis Martin.
But they may not find it until Tuesday. On this sports holiday in Massachusetts known as Patriots Day, Dillon Monday is competing with the Red Sox taking three of four from the Yankees, the Bruins playing the Canadians in Game 7, and the Boston Marathon.
The Bengals made sure the Pats gave them their first pick in the second round that they received from Miami No. 56 and not the last pick in the round at No. 63. The Bengals have their own second-round pick at No. 49, as well as their own third-rounder at No. 80 and the draft's highest compensation pick at No. 96, the last pick of the third round in closing the first day of the two-day draft.
Feldman said Monday that the Patriots were always around the trade talks even though Oakland got the bulk of the buzz. He said talks heated up Saturday as New England came to grips with giving up one of its second-rounders.
"The Patriots were always around. Different teams had different interest and different conversations," Feldman said. "They did their research and found out he was their guy and it was for the right value.
"Corey is absolutely so excited to be going to this team," Feldman said. "Marvin could have made it tougher. (Bengals President) Mike Brown could have exiled him. But they sent him to the perfect place and it was a good deal for them. We hope it's a deal that works out for everyone."
Dillon was also thankful.
"I still have love for Cincinnati and the fans. I'd like to thank Mike Brown, Katie Blackburn, Troy Blackburn, Coach [Marvin] Lewis," Dillon said. "I had some great times there. I set a couple of records in Cincinnati. I'm always going to have love for Cincinnati and that fan base. But, today is a new day. I'm happy to be a Patriot and I'm just going to finish what I started in Cincinnati in New England.
"I couldn't be happier. It's a big relief, not only to me but [also] to my family. Everybody's happy and they're excited. This is the first time I've been excited about a season since I was in college. I can't wait to get down there and get started."
It's believed the Bengals have already figured into their free-agency spending the $1 million or so they save under the salary cap with the departure of Dillon's $3.3 million salary for '04. With Dillon gone and Johnson heading into the last year of his contract, the extra high pick gives them a chance to look at more running backs in the second round.
Florida State's Greg Jones and Oklahoma State's Tatum Bell are seen as second-rounders, and Michigan's Chris Perry might be there in the first round when they pick at No. 24 but not at No. 49. The second round is believed to be too high for Ohio State's Maurice Clarett.
Lewis gave no clues Monday of what the Bengals are thinking because he listed virtually every position as one of need.
"Offensively, center, a speed wide receiver, offensive line in general, running back. There are some needs there I think we can address in this draft," Lewis said. "Defensively, defensive linemen, whether it be defensive end or tackle, linebacker, and cornerback, safety. I think all the positions on defense.
"When we get a chance to pick, we'll (pick) the best player. The picks go by needs and grade wise."
With 10 picks, the Bengals have plenty of ammo to pull a trade that would get them higher in the first round. Lewis isn't encouraged about "finding someone to dance with," but he wouldn't rule it out.
"It's harder for people to move around than people think every year, but you never know," Lewis said. "I doubt it."
The trade ends one of the most outstanding and bizarre careers in Bengals' history. After being drafted in the second round out of Washington in 1997, Dillon went on to set every major rushing record for the Bengals while also racking up two of the NFL's top ten rushing games of all time.
His 278 yards against Denver on just 22 unforgettable carries Oct. 22, 2000 was the NFL record until Baltimore's Jamal Lewis went for 295 last year. In the last prime-time game in Cincinnati, Dillon broke Jim Brown's rookie rushing record with 246 yards on a Thursday night in 1997 and it still stands as the ninth best of all time.
But along the way, Dillon vowed to "flip burgers," rather than play for the Bengals again after his first contract ran out, didn't show up for Lewis' first voluntary minicamp last April, and threw his uniform into the Paul Brown Stadium stands piece by piece after the loss to Cleveland in last season's regular-season finale.
Dillon entered his seventh season last year frustrated by lack of post-season play, and the frustration escalated when a groin injury he blamed on the PBS grass and the emergence of Rudi Johnson cut into his carries. After his only 100-yard game of the season (108 on 18 carries against San Diego in Game 11), Dillon pronounced himself healthy. But he ended up getting 45 carries the rest of the season compared to Johnson's 60.
Although Dillon broke a 2000 training camp holdout with a one-year, $3 million deal and then signed a club record five-year, $26 million deal in May of 2001, the losing ate into his happiness. He didn't give Lewis much of a chance and observed the three-year anniversary of the 278 game with a rambling, day-long rant last year that was most likely spurred by dealing with the first major injury of his career and rumors the Bengals were trying to get rid of him because of age and declining play.
But even then, back on Oct. 22, he indicated it was the lack of work that bugged him.
"You hear, 'Corey's not a guy that fits in with what Marvin is doing.' Possible," Dillon said. "Maybe I want to do different things. Maybe I see myself in a different situation doing what I envision me doing. Will it get done here? I don't know. How we go from being one of the strongest running teams to one of the weakest, I don't know. When I'm healthy, I don't get the ball more than 20 times a game."
Dillon hasn't carried more than 23 times in a game in more than a year, or since he went for 138 yards on 30 carries Oct. 27, 2002 in a 30-24 loss to Tennessee