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Dillon for Dollars
Jeffri Chadiha
March 05, 2001
Premier running back Corey Dillon will strike it rich as a free agent, but he may have to spend that money in Cincinnati
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March 05, 2001

Dillon For Dollars

Premier running back Corey Dillon will strike it rich as a free agent, but he may have to spend that money in Cincinnati

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Running In Place

Corey Dillon is one of only eight players in NFL history to run for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons. But Dillon's rushing totals are even more impressive when you consider the quality of the teams on which the other seven backs played.
—by David Sabino






Terrell Davis, Broncos





Won two Super Bowls

Tony Dorsett, Cowboys





Won Super Bowl

Eric Dickerson, Rams





Lost NFC Championship Game

Earl Campbell, Oilers





Lost two AFC Championship Games

Curtis Martin, Patriots, Jets





Lost Super Bowl

Eddie George, Oilers-Titans





Lost Super Bowl

Barry Sanders, Lions





Lost NFC Championship Game

Corey Dillon, Bengals





Went 7-9 in 1997

You want to find Corey Dillon? Go to one of the sleepiest suburbs of Cincinnati, and that's where he'll be. On this day he's sitting in the living room of the two-story town house he rents. The place is about 20 minutes north of downtown, and to reach it you have to pass countless ranch homes, a couple of strip malls and an unmanned security booth at the entrance to his nondescript complex. Think witness-protection program. "There isn't too much out here, but it's good for me," says Dillon, the Cincinnati Bengals' two-time Pro Bowl running back. "There isn't any [trouble] to get into, and it's only temporary."

By temporary the 25-year-old Dillon means he will soon be moving to another part of town or even another part of the country. That's because when the free-agent signing period begins on Friday, the 6'1", 225-pounder figures to be among the most-sought-after players on the market. "I want a big house in a secluded area," says Dillon. "I've seen places in Cincinnati and in other cities that are very nice. Wherever I go, I'll get a home I can escape to and have my peace."

Playing for a team that was 18-46 over the past four years, Dillon still ran for more than 1,100 yards each season. In his fifth start as a pro he broke Jim Brown's single-game rushing record for a rookie with a 246-yard performance against the Tennessee Oilers, and last season he eclipsed Walter Payton's alltime single-game rushing mark with a 278-yard day against the Denver Broncos. A bruising inside ballcarrier who showed in 2000 that he also has the speed to outrun defenders, Dillon finished the season with a career-high 1,435 rushing yards, even though the Cincinnati passing game ranked last in the league.

"He has as good a combination of size, speed and toughness as anybody," says Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese. "He's a bigger back than he gets credit for. He runs really, really hard. If you miss a tackle, he can go 80 yards."

If the Bengals have their way, however, Dillon won't be moving far. The team recently attached its transition tag to him, giving it the right to match any contract offer the running back receives. Further, Cincinnati is in excellent position to fend off the overtures of a playoff-caliber team in the market for a marquee back. As of Monday morning, the Bengals were the NFL team farthest under the salary cap, with a $17.2 million cushion.

"I don't think Corey Dillon is going anywhere," says Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson, who showed interest when Dillon was a restricted free agent last winter but backed off because signing him would have cost Kansas City its first-and third-round draft selections. "Last year [ Bengals president] Mike Brown told me flat out that even if we had three first-round picks, he was not going to let the guy go."

Says Brown, "Over the last couple of seasons we've negotiated three [long-term] deals, at least two of which his agents have recommended he accept. [ Dillon rejected all three to test the free-agent market.] That's evidence we're committed to getting him signed."

Even Dillon sounds resigned to an extended stay in Cincinnati. "I can honestly say I have no problems with staying if I have to," he says. "But you have to look at it from my perspective: Last year I couldn't do much of anything in their eyes—they told me I couldn't block well enough, couldn't catch the ball, couldn't run away from safeties. Now they're telling everybody, 'We have to have this guy back.' What am I supposed to think?"

In the six months before signing a one-year, $3 million contract last August, Dillon called a Seattle radio station and announced that he "would rather flip burgers" than play for the Bengals, threatened to sit out the first 10 games (and return only to play in the minimum number of games required to earn a year of service toward free agency) and criticized Brown for the way the organization was run, saying Cincinnati fans "should feel cheated and betrayed." Since then Dillon has tried to lie low, but he continues to make news.

Late last season he rejected two contract extensions, one of which included a $12 million signing bonus. Dillon is also working with his third agent in four months. In October he parted with Marvin Demoff in a dispute over commissions, and in late December he fired the team of David Levine and James Sims, claiming the two weren't keeping him informed about negotiations. Now Leigh Steinberg is charged with repairing the image of a man perceived to be indecisive and high-maintenance. "I've always had to deal with this, people not telling the whole story when it comes to me," Dillon says. "The bottom line is, I'm a superstar only when something negative happens."

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