Dillon, who rushed for 1,635 yards in his first season with the Super Bowl champion Patriots, agreed to a contract extension that could keep him a Patriot for the remainder of his career. The restructuring of the deal guarantees that he will make $10 million the next two seasons, and if the Patriots pick up the option in 2007, he might make $25 million over the next five years.
Dillon, 30, was entering the final year of his contract and was scheduled to make $3.95 million. By reaching this agreement, the Patriots will lower Dillon's current cap number of $4.495 million and give them more room to sign free agents and their draft choices. Entering Monday, the Patriots were only $619,000 under the salary cap.
"They stepped up and took care of him, even though he's on the
wrong side of 30," agent Steve Feldman said. "This deal allows him to end his
career as a Patriot."
In many ways, this deal goes against NFL traditions. Dillon will be 31 in October, and running backs tend to take pay cuts in their 30s. It happened to Jerome Bettis of the Steelers and former Titan Eddie George last season.
For the Patriots to step up and reward Dillon at his age is significant, though Dillon shows no signs of slowing down now that he's left his 20s. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first six season with the Bengals before suffering injuries in 2003.
He lobbied to be traded to a winning team and got
his wish before last season, when the Patriots swapped a
second-round draft pick for Dillon to bolster their ground game.
He responded by rushing for a career-high and team-best 1,635
yards, with 12 touchdowns. Dillon had 75 yards on 18 carries,
including a 2-yard scoring run, in the Super Bowl victory.
After the game, he said all he needed was the right situation to
bring out the best in him.
"God put me in a good place and surrounded me with good people.
This whole thing has been a true blessing. ... This is what it is
all about," Dillon said.
The Bengals built their struggling franchise around Dillon in
the 1990s, and he became one of only four players in NFL history to
run for 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons. The groin
injury limited him to 11 starts and 541 yards in 2003.
The Bengals tired of his complaining about not getting the ball
enough, and dealt him. To join the Patriots, Dillon restructured
the last two years of his contract, softening the their salary cap
hit for 2004.
Last season was Dillon's best, topping his best season by 200 yards. His presence allowed quarterback Tom Brady to work more play-action passes and add a yard to his yard-per-completion numbers and open up more passing routes downfield.
Dillon, who turns 31 in October, was a second-round pick out of
Washington in 1997. He broke Jim Brown's rookie record by running
for 246 yards against Tennessee.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was also used in this report.