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Saints' Johnson has top comeback

Joe Johnson amazed the Saints with his recovery from the knee injury that wiped out his 1999 season.

Thursday, the rest of the league took notice. Johnson was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.

He recovered from three surgeries to record a career-best 12 sacks to make the NFC Pro Bowl team and help the Saints win the NFC West championship.

"This is a great year for me, to get back out there, to get back to regular form, and have the team do so well, and be going back to the Pro Bowl," said Johnson, a seven-year veteran defensive end. "Everything just came into place."

Johnson made his first Pro Bowl in 1998. But he suffered a setback before the 1999 regular season started.

During a practice on Aug. 24, Johnson tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He had surgery and was placed on injured reserve. In December, Johnson had another surgery to repair bulging discs in his back.

After returning to practice in May during off-season coaching sessions, Johnson needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in early June. He sat out the first two preseason games but has been on the field ever since.

Johnson also has 64 tackles, 6 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.

Johnson beat New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins by one vote (9-8) in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.

Following Collins, who has put his career back together after alcohol problems, were Baltimore quarterback Trent Dilfer and Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas, each with four votes. Dallas defensive lineman Dimitrius Underwood and Miami running back Lamar Smith each got three votes.

BENGALS: Running back Corey Dillon rejected the team's first contract offer after two months of negotiations. Dillon's agent, David Levine, said the offer was too low.

Dillon was the eighth NFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons. He finished this season with 1,435 yards on 315 attempts, both team records and career highs.

Dillon is asking for $5-million to $7-million a season with a $10-million signing bonus, according to Thursday's Cincinnati Enquirer.

The amount of the Bengals' initial offer was not released.

BILLS: Owner Ralph Wilson said he met with former Pittsburgh Steelers executive Tom Donahoe about the vacant general manager position and probably will meet with him again next week. Wilson fired John Butler on Dec. 19 after eight seasons. He said Butler was unwilling to make a commitment beyond February, when his contract was to run out.

CHARGERS: Team president Dean Spanos has begun his search for a general manager by interviewing Butler.

"Dean said it was a good meeting, a positive meeting," Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said. Spanos plans to meet with Butler again next week, Johnston said.

Johnston said Spanos told him he had spoken with another candidate but didn't say who.