Friday, March 19, 2004

Bengals take RB's comments in stride

Loyalty clause may be in play

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

On Wednesday night, Corey Dillon referred to teammate Willie Anderson as a "bum," insulted heir apparent tailback Rudi Johnson, recalled his "power struggle" with coach Marvin Lewis and said he would not come back to the Bengals.

Dillon's comments in a Best Damn Sports Show Period interview might have made it impossible for him to return and honor the final two seasons of his five-year contract with the Bengals.

And the collective weight of Dillon's statements might make him the first test case of the Bengals' loyalty clause.

Lewis and other Bengals officials declined Thursday to be interviewed about Dillon or the possibility of enacting the loyalty clause.

Steven Feldman, Dillon's agent, said he had no comment about his client's interview and was not concerned about the Bengals invoking the loyalty clause.

The Bengals are trying to trade Dillon and have been offered a third-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the disgruntled running back.

Dillon's contract, which he signed May 11, 2001, included the loyalty clause, a provision designed to enable the organization to recoup prorated signing bonus money for seasons a Bengal refuses to play. Dillon was paid an $11 million signing bonus, which the club is prorating and absorbing on the salary cap at $2.2 million a year.

With two years remaining on Dillon's contract, the Bengals are still looking at a pair of $2.2 million cap hits - even if Dillon is traded or released from his contract.

Bengals president Mike Brown explained the reasons behind the loyalty clause several times in 2000 and 2001.

Otherwise known as the "Carl Pickens Clause," after the former Bengals wide receiver, the provision is designed to "put the burden of breaching the contract on the player," Brown said.

"It isn't a device to restrict normal discourse between players and the media. It's aimed at deterring what we consider way-out behavior by a player who is trying to force the club's hand with outrageous comments."

That's what the Bengals thought Pickens did late in the 1999 season when he invited reporters to his Spinney Field locker and blasted the team for bringing back coach Bruce Coslet.

In 1999, Pickens had played the first season under a five-year contract he was paid a $3.5 million bonus to sign; $700,000 was to count against the salary cap each season.

The Bengals terminated Pickens' contract July 19, 2000, and if Pickens' contract had included a loyalty clause, the organization might have been able to get back $2.8 million of his signing bonus.

Many agents argue that bonus money is different from salary, but Brown says it is "salary paid on an accelerated bonus. The reality is, of course, that the multimillion-dollar signing bonus was nothing other than payment for future performance over the term of the contract."

Whether the Bengals choose to invoke the loyalty clause - a move that would surely be challenged by the NFL Players Association - is unclear. But Dillon's comments stung some of his Bengals teammates, particularly Anderson.

"I could play with him again," said Anderson, the team's right tackle and one of Dillon's blockers for seven years. "When he said I didn't have his credentials, he is my credential. What a running back does - 1,400 yards rushing, making the Pro Bowl from a losing team that couldn't throw the ball - is an offensive lineman's credentials."

Anderson, after the season, said if Dillon wanted out that the team should get rid of him. Dillon said Anderson should have talked directly to him.

"I still respect Corey," he said. "I'm not going to say anything bad about him, but I tried to meet with him on numerous occasions. He blew me off. I'm a 340-pound man. I don't dodge anybody, unless they have a gun."


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