Wednesday, February 09, 2000

Bengals make offer to Dillon, close on Jones

Team issues Friday deadline to left tackle

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bengals running back Corey Dillon may have wanted out of Cincinnati at the end of the season, but the team made it harder for him to leave Tuesday when it tendered him a one-year contract for an estimated $1.37 million.

        That means if the Bengals decide not to match an offer for Dillon, who becomes a restricted free agent Friday, his new team must give the Bengals their first- and third-round draft picks.

        Meanwhile, the Bengals appear to be close to a deal with starting left tackle Rod Jones. But they've also let Jones know the money they've offered will be directed elsewhere if he doesn't agree to a deal by the time he becomes an unrestricted free agent Friday.

        The Bengals think they've offered Jones as much money as they can for a player with one full starting season, believed to be in the $2.5 million- to $3 million-a-year range.

        “At that point, it becomes first come, first served,” Bengals President Mike Brown said. “We want Rod back and feel like we've given him a very fair offer. But we have to move on if he doesn't sign.”

        Jones said Tuesday from Detroit he's confident a deal can be struck by Friday.

        “The Bengals want to get it done by Friday, and so do I,” Jones said. “I think we're close.”

        Even if Jones doesn't re-sign, the Bengals say they don't have as much money available in free agency as they have in the past. The salary cap is now at about $62.1 million, a $5 million hike over last year. Cincinnati figures it has about $7 million to spend as new big contracts for players such as wide receiver Carl Pickens and quarterback Akili Smith mixwith the 1998 deals for wide receiver Darnay Scott and defensive end John Copeland to tighten the numbers. Dillon, who made $503,00 in '99, will more than double his salary with the tender.

        The Bengals want to sign Dillon to a long-term deal, which they say they will continue to pursue. A number of teams, led by the Browns and Lions, are said to be interested in Dillon, but Brown said it's improbable the Bengals will lose him.

        Historically, Brown has not batted an eye in matching deals for restricted free agents who start.

        “You never know. I guess there is a number we wouldn't match, but I don't see us losing him this year,” Brown said.


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