The New England Patriots used their abundance of draft choices to bolster their chances of winning yet another Super Bowl, trading a second-round selection in this weekend's NFL draft to the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday to obtain tailback Corey Dillon.
The Patriots, winners of two of the past three Super Bowls, get Dillon, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each of his first six NFL seasons before losing his starting job to Rudi Johnson last year, to fill their most pressing need.
New England had five of the draft's first 95 picks and had considered trading up in the first-round order to be in position to select Oregon State tailback Steven Jackson on Saturday. Instead, the Patriots get a proven runner. And the Bengals get rid of a major source of headaches in the perpetually disgruntled Dillon, who said at the end of last season that he did not expect to be back in Cincinnati.
The Bengals had discussed a prospective trade with Oakland, but the Raiders apparently were unwilling to surrender a second-round choice. Dillon, 29, had said he wanted to be traded to Oakland, even appearing on a television show in a Bo Jackson throwback Raiders jersey, but he expressed delight with being sent to New England.
"I think everybody pretty much broke even," Dillon said, according to the Associated Press. "We're talking about the New England Patriots. 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. It's a good deal all around, I think."
Dillon and his agent, Steve Feldman, reportedly agreed to rework the remaining two seasons of Dillon's contract. Dillon had been due to earn salaries of $3.3 million next season and $3.85 million in 2005. The details of the new contract were not immediately clear.
The Patriots averaged only 3.4 yards per rushing attempt last season and were looking for a workhorse runner to help quarterback Tom Brady. New England severed its ties to veteran tailback Antowain Smith after its Super Bowl triumph over the Carolina Panthers, declining to exercise an option in his contract after Smith refused to accept a pay cut. The Patriots re-signed free agent tailback Kevin Faulk, who had 638 regular season rushing yards last year, four fewer than Smith's club-leading total. Coach Bill Belichick, though, now must blend the potentially disruptive Dillon into a locker room that already contains cornerback Ty Law, who is in a bitter contract dispute with the team.
"We are very excited about Corey Dillon becoming a Patriot," Belichick said in a written statement released by the team. "Corey joins Kevin Faulk and our other very good backs to deepen an already competitive running back position. We acquired multiple draft choices with the intention of strengthening the team and Corey Dillon . . . should help achieve that goal."
Dillon had only 541 rushing yards last season while Johnson ran for 957 yards and established himself at Cincinnati's starter entering next season. Dillon was only the fourth running back in league history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, joining Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin.