Shortly after Corey Dillon and the Patriots left the RCA Dome field after their bitter defeat in the AFC Championship Game, the running back was hinting at retirement. A little more than a month later, it seems only his days in New England are over.
In a confusing couple of hours during the recently completed NFL Combine, Dillon indicated that he was leaning toward retirement, only to be contradicted by his agent and ultimately retract those statements a day later.
As it stands, according to Dillon's agent, Steve Feldman, the running back would like to continue playing in 2007 – just not with the Patriots. Today, the Patriots granted him that wish by letting go of the NFL's 14th all-time leading rusher.
"On behalf of the New England Patriots organization, we respect and appreciate Corey Dillon's significant contributions to our team," Bill Belichick said in a statement announcing the move. "Those contributions extend beyond his individual on-field achievements and his integral role in a championship season. They also include three years of veteran leadership and positive relationships throughout the team."
The confusion began with a story that appeared in the Feb. 23 Boston Globe where Dillon sounded like a man who had played his final game.
"I think more of my health, how I envision myself five, 10 years down the road," Dillon said. "I don't want to be broken down, not able to play with my kids. Football is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I've been blessed and fortunate enough to play 10 years. I can get up and walk around and be comfortable. That's one of the big determining factors.
"There comes a time in your football career when you come to a conclusion and I'm at mine. I don't need to play. I may wake up and feel the itch and decide I still want to shake it, but as of now, I doubt that will happen."
But Dillon also said he planned to ask the Patriots for his release, which would be a strange course of action for a guy planning to retire. When asked if he would play for another team, Dillon offered a peek into his plans by not dismissing the possibility. "I'm going to leave the window open, but it's very slim."
Not so slim according to Feldman. The agent was quoted the same day in the Boston Herald saying the only thing coming to a close was his client's Patriots career. Feldman reiterated those thoughts a few days later to PFW.
"Somehow the situation was exaggerated to someone," Feldman said of the Globe report. "Retirement is always an option, but it's definitely not in the plans. The whole idea after discussions with the club and how they plan to run the offense it was clear to Corey that he was only going to get eight to 10 carries a game. He wants more carries than that and believes he can still be productive."
It's clear that if Dillon can find work elsewhere in the right situation that he's prepared to move on, which is a far cry from the "very slim" characterization he used earlier. Feldman said the Patriots released Dillon "out of respect."
"They could have said no and could have made things difficult on Corey," Feldman said. "But it's about business on everyone's end and I've always had a good relationship with the Patriots so I'm not surprised they would act in such a professional manner."
By releasing him March 2, which is the start of the new league year, the Patriots can treat Dillon as a post-June 1 cut and spread the salary cap hit over two years. A tweak in the new collective bargaining agreement allows teams to do this with two players per year rather than being forced to wait until June 1, which obviously wasn't beneficial to the player.
For more on the Dillon release check out the latest edition of Patriots Football Weekly, which is set to hit newsstands March 6.