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Patriots' Dillon to call it quits

Running back will ask for his release

After 10 NFL seasons, the last three with the Patriots, running back Corey Dillon says he's "leaving on a high note." (FILE/DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Running back Corey Dillon wants to leave the game on his own terms, saying yesterday he will ask the Patriots for his release and is prepared to retire.

"I think more of my health, how I envision myself 5-10 years down the road," Dillon said via cellphone from California. "I don't want to be broken down, not able to play with my kids. 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."

New York Giants running back Tiki Barber made a similar decision this season, retiring to accept a broadcasting job with NBC despite still playing at a high level.

"We came into the league together and when he said 'retire,' I said to him that we were thinking the same stuff," Dillon said. "We've had a ton of carries, a ton of pounding."

The 32-year-old Dillon believes he has nothing more to prove. In 10 seasons with the Bengals (1997-2003) and Patriots (2004-06), he totaled 11,241 rushing yards, 14th on the NFL's all-time list. In 2004, he won the Super Bowl ring he coveted.

"There comes a time in your football career when you come to a conclusion and I'm at mine," he said. "I don't need to play."

Asked if he would suit up for another team, Dillon said he was "going to leave the window open, but it's very slim.

"Football is the furthest thing on my mind right now," he said. "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."

Dillon said he has yet to speak with the Patriots. He is under contract for the next three seasons and his salary cap charge for 2007 is $4.4 million. Given that number, it's likely the Patriots would grant his request.

When he signed a five-year extension in 2005 (with $6 million in bonuses), Dillon said he treated it as a two-year deal because of its structure. That extension, which paid him approximately $10 million the last two years, came after the season in which the Patriots acquired him from the Bengals for a second-round draft choice. In his first year with New England, Dillon set the franchise's season record for rushing yards (1,635 yards) and felt revived after seven mostly losing seasons in Cincinnati. Dillon also enjoyed the idea that he could blend into the team concept with the Patriots.

"That was the best season of my career," said Dillon, who settled with his family in Newton. "I did everything they wanted me to do and we won it all. It wasn't like I went to the Pats and sat on the bench. I did my work and I'd like people to think I was a deciding factor in helping win the Super Bowl."

In his three years with the team, the hard-charging Dillon helped the Patriots to a 35-8 record in games in which he played. He scored 39 touchdowns in 43 contests, totaling 3,180 yards on 753 rushes (4.2-yard average).

"I gave them what they wanted; I didn't come in and steal money," he said. "I felt like the money they spent was well earned."

Dillon's role declined in each of his three seasons, going from 345 carries to 209 in 2005, and 199 last season. He said the changing role had little to do with his decision, although he acknowledged things weren't always perfect in New England.

"I dealt with the snaps," he said of sharing the load with rookie Laurence Maroney last season. "In all honesty, it helped me more than anyone else. I stayed fresh. I'm injury-free. I enjoyed my time with my teammates. I have a bond with some of the guys and I'll miss the [running back] room. Those guys are my boys for life."

Dillon became close with running back Kevin Faulk, and said he also took pride in helping Maroney. Asked if he feels Maroney is ready for expanded duty, Dillon said, "If he's not, he better be. I think the world of the young guy and will be watching him. I wish him all the success in the world."

Maroney is signed through the 2010 season, and the Patriots also have Faulk under contract through 2009. Running backs Heath Evans and Patrick Pass are scheduled for unrestricted free agency March 2.

Dillon, who said he told some teammates before the season that 2006 was likely his last, hopes he has done enough to earn his place among the game's greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the Patriots' season finale at Tennessee, he moved ahead of former Redskins running back John Riggins on the NFL's all-time rushing list. In 150 career regular-season games, Dillon carried 2,618 times, averaging nearly 18 carries per game, reflecting his reputation as a workhorse.

"I can go to sleep and wake up knowing I was a baller," Dillon said.

Yet accounts of Dillon's career have often focused as much on his stormy relationship with the media as his on-field accomplishments. In Cincinnati and New England, he had a sometimes volatile relationship with the media. With the Patriots, age was often a topic that made him bristle.

"Lack of respect is a big thing with me and I just felt that a guy of my stature should be respected for playing that many years -- I don't care if you're 32 or 35, or if you gain a yard or a half-yard," he said. "There were little tweaks here and there, some I didn't appreciate, but I tried to handle it with class. To be old and lead the team in scoring and rushing, there is nothing more to be said."

Dillon is currently in California, where his "main focus is trying to hit the golf course." He said he expects to talk further with his agent, Steve Feldman, about his decision. Although Dillon acknowledges that Feldman and Patriots officials might try to convince him to play another season, Dillon said, "At the end of day, I'm going to make the decision."

And right now, his work is done.

"I'm leaving on a high note," he said. "That's how you want to leave the game."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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