Saturday, April 01, 2000

Bengals need new deal for Dillon




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Corey Dillon is a marvelous malcontent. He's a terrific back with a tender knee and a talent for nursing grudges. He's the best player on the Cincinnati Bengals — faint praise, granted — but he's not so good that you couldn't get along without him.

        If the Baltimore Ravens are willing to sign Dillon to an offer sheet — and compensate the Bengals with first- and third-round draft choices — this is not the worst possible scenario. The worst scenario is Dillon running the same cynical pattern Carl Pickens did last summer — skipping the bulk of training camp to create leverage, then showing up late and out of shape and of little use for the 2000 season.

        If this is where we're headed, let's not go there. If the Pickens experience has taught us anything, it is that high-profile holdouts are often more trouble than they're worth.

        If Dillon is determined to be miserable, no amount of money is going to change that. If the Bengals ever want to escape their decade-long doldrums, perhaps they should find some players who can see beyond the end of their own egos.

        This is a critical period for the local football operation. Paul Brown Stadium nears completion with its tenant in disrepute. Two weeks from today, Mike Brown & Co. tap their annual source of optimism — the college draft. Between now and then, some resolution should be reached with Dillon.

        As a restricted free agent, Dillon has until April 10 to consider offers from other clubs. If he accepts one, the Bengals would have the right to match the offer or accept the compensatory draft choices.

A prohibitive cost
        Probably, it doesn't get to that point. Probably, no NFL team would be willing to spend a No.1 and a No.3 to get Dillon. Ever since Mike Ditka's fatal attraction to Ricky Williams, NFL executives have been reluctant to overpay for a running back who might get them fired.

        “I think there's no chance,” said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' personnel authority. “When you start giving up first-round draft choices for running backs, that means you really like that running back.”

        The Ravens own two first-round draft choices (Nos.5 and 15) and a pressing need for rushing offense. Though Dillon would represent a significant upgrade, the Ravens might prefer to draft a younger back with better knees.

        Shaun Alexander, for instance.

        “The Ravens love Alexander,” said Jerry Jones, author of The Drugstore List. “Dillon's got value because he's put together three 1,000-yard years ... But would you give up a 1 and a 3 for him?”

        Even if the Ravens were willing to make that move, the Bengals might have reservations. Losing Dillon to a division rival would be dangerous. Losing him to a team still owned by Art Modell could be galling.

        Keeping him, however, carries its own headaches. If Dillon follows Pickens' path — and he appears to have borrowed the blueprints — the Bengals probably will spend the summer haggling with their holdout running back.

Another no-win situation
        This is not conducive to either competitive success or customer satisfaction. The Bengals' product line is rarely pleasurable, but the idea of a protracted Dillon holdout makes the whole season seem futile five months before it starts. It calls for pre-emptive action.

        If Dillon does not sign an offer sheet by April 10, the Bengals should make a determined effort to get a new contract done before the draft. If Dillon cannot be signed, he probably should be dealt, ideally before a decision is due on the team's No.1 draft choice. Yet even this approach is problematic.

        “If we traded Corey, then you'd have 30 other guys saying they didn't want to be here,” Lippincott said. “The more they talk about not wanting to play here, the more they're going to be here.”

        Eventually, the Bengals need to surround Akili Smith with players willing to buy into the program, however bleak it might appear. They need to get past the point where their best players are their worst teammates.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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