By: Bob George/BosSports.net
April 19, 2004

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The Patriots simply had to do something to keep Ty Law off Page One.

Law forgets how to change lanes properly, and then throws a nutty when a Miami Beach police officer dares question him on it. There are those who believe that Law (or somebody named Poston) orchestrated this "arrest" on purpose just to expedite his departure from the Super Bowl champions. Law had to make it a traffic deal this time, it seems; if you check his "first time bust rap sheet", the box next to "ecstasy" has already been checked.

Law busted? Who's Law? You might remember the names Cherigat and Ndereba better than Law right now.

Or Foulke and Kapler.

Actually, you can insert a new name at the top of the list: Dillon. And this hasn't got anything to do with Gunsmoke.

The Patriots literally wiped their draft strategy blackboard clean on Monday, trading for the enigmatic but brilliant Corey Dillon. The Patriots sent Cincinnati the 56th pick in Saturday's draft, and the man who once rushed for 278 yards in a game and twice hit for 245 or more is now a Patriot. Not only are you saying "Ty who?", you might also be saying "Curtis who?"

The Patriots, if Dillon proves to be the next Curtis Martin and not the next Duane Thomas, picked a ripe plum off of the running back tree. For the bargain price of only a second round pick, the Patriots have arguably one of the three best backs in the NFL over the past seven years. Dillon is a certified primo NFL back, one who can come in and furnish the completeness to the Patriot offense which had no running game yet was good enough to go 17-2 and win a Super Bowl in 2003.

If Dillon comes with any asterisks or caveats, it is his reputation for being difficult to deal with. In a way, Dillon bucks the trend of players Bill Belichick likes to go after these days. Belichick wants men and not boys, men who will do as they are told and not have their own agenda, men who subscribe to the "team first" concept. Dillon's last few years in Cincinnati, especially 2003, tended to portray him as a malcontent who did more whining than producing.

And that's saying a lot. Dillon's idea of "producing" is something special. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first six NFL seasons before injuries and Rudi Johnson cut into his 2003 playing time. His best season was 2000, when he rushed for 1,435 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. And 2000 was when he lit up Denver for a then-NFL record 278 yards on October 22 at Paul Brown Stadium. His career rushing average is 4.3, and only in 2003 and 2001 (1,315 total yards rushing) did his season average dip below 4 (3.9 in both years).

The nice thing about Dillon coming to Foxborough is that he is a marquee back with something to prove. His final days in the Queen City were generally pretty bad, rife with complaining about reduced carries and playing time. It was poorly received by all of Bengal Nation, and especially poorly by his teammates, who were enjoying a resurgence under new head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals still have not had a winning season since 1990, and the last thing the Bengals needed to hear last season was a high profile star acting like a whiny brat.

Dillon's animosity towards the Bengals goes way beyond 2003. After his benchmark 2000 season, Dillon seemed all but gone from the Bengals. He stated at the time his desire to play for a winning team, and was tired of wasting all his big rushing numbers on a perennial loser. Yet he chose to resign with the Bengals after the 2000 season, and signed a five-year deal worth $15 million (which the Patriots reworked to fit their cap upon completion of this trade). The resigning seemed to soften everyone's opinion of Dillon at the time, and he was made to look like a great back who cared deeply about making the Bengals a contender after too many consecutive dry years.

Four years later, the term "great back" hasn't changed. But his losing his starting job to Johnson last season helped hasten Dillon's departure from Cincinnati. As the Bengals went 8-8 and came within a home loss to hated rival Cleveland of winning the 2003 AFC North title, Dillon left his indelible stamp upon the Queen City by tossing his helmet, pads and cleats into the crowd and proclaiming "I'm outta here…I've played my last game for the Bengals!"

Some three months later, and fittingly on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, Dillon got his wish. Reportedly ecstatic to be joining the Patriots, Dillon comes to a championship team who needs him badly. Dillon wisecracked that the Bengals "are winning without him". Much the same is true in New England, but nobody in Patriot Nation is disputing that the Patriots became a far better team with his addition on Monday.

If Dillon has some more years left in him that compare to his greatest times in Cincinnati, the happiest person on the planet would have to be Tom Brady. With Dillon in the backfield to preoccupy linebackers and strong safeties, Brady will be able to make unbelievable hay with Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown and Daniel Graham. Graham especially should be able to find lots more open lanes and routes if opposing defenses must stand up and stop the run. It is not a foolhardy thing to say that, given injuries are not a factor, if Dillon can rush for at least 1,200 yards in 2004, the Patriots will be near impossible to deal with on offense.

Belichick can now sit back on Saturday and focus on other areas of the draft, and not worry about trading up to get Oregon State's Steven Jackson. What Belichick might perhaps be considering is getting some big mooses to block for Dillon, just in case Tom Ashworth's and Russ Hochstein's coaches begin to turn into pumpkins next season.

The timing on this trade is marvelous. What a better way to make everyone forget about this bust in south Florida. Dillon is the top dog in Foxborough right now, while Law fought the law and the law won and nobody cares. ESPN's Sean Salisbury says that this trade guarantees another Vince in Foxborough, while the Postons must be heading back to the drawing board to concoct the next scheme in which to pry their client loose from the Patriots while the big bucks are still out there to be had.

Yes, the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees, and the Marathon is still the finest road race in America. Forget the Bruins, today is no time to grieve over total disasters.

Dillon made Monday a true Patriots Day. Period.


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