Hearsay and rumors have created a cloud of doubt around Peyton Hillis returning to the Cleveland Browns. Losing Peyton Hillis would not be the end of the world for the Cleveland Browns He is a mid tier talent and can be replaced in free agency or the draft, however the amount of needs on the offensive side of the ball pose a problem for the front office. With the need for a right tackle, depth on the offensive line and an all new wide out corp can Holmgren and Heckert really afford to add running back to that list? Bringing Hillis back before free agency would fill a need on offense and allow full attention towards the other positions that need play makers so that an accurate assessment at quarterback can be made. Lets start with what we know about the situation, discuss the ridiculousness and lack of merit the rumors held throughout the 2011 season and dive into why the Browns and Hillis both benefit from this relationship.
Lets start with the facts of what Peyton Hillis went through this season. Some may call it a bad year while others blame the fabled Madden Curse but one thing for sure, it wasn’t an ideal year for Peyton Hillis. First he had strep throat. Claims that he upset players by sitting out against the Dolphins was reported by Adam Schefter. The local media had a field day with the notion that Hillis was making a statement in regards to his contract. Even after Josh Cribbs spoke to the media stating that the players had no issues with Peyton Hillis the local media still harped on the idea. The reality was that Hillis was sick, was sent home from practice that Friday and was unable to play on Sunday.
Hillis suffered a hamstring injury on the first play two games later against the Raiders and the media goes on to speculate that he has been benched with no viable proof to such a claim. When the injury is revealed in the 3rd quarter, the media still hint at their first hypothesis as being one of the reasons Hillis did not play. In the game before this against the Titans 7 carries were given to Hardesty while Hillis had 10. Hillis ran for 46 yards compared to Hardesty’s 22. You know what Peyton Hillis did not do? Drop four balls right out of his hands. So why would the Browns bench Peyton Hillis in favor of Montario Hardesty?
This is the point where I would have called it a year for Hardesty but the Browns did not have that luxury. With Brandon Jackson out for the year and now Hillis on the sidelines Hardesty became the only viable option. Eventually Chris Ogbonnaya started to get more involved in the game plan but by that time Hillis had come back to finish the season. The media dogged his performance but he played two of the top three defenses in the league four out of the last six games. So no, he didn’t have 90 plus yards but twice, once against the Cardinals and once against the number two rush defense in the league, the Ravens.
Rumors of Hillis not coming back to Cleveland have been circulating since the contract negotiations between the Browns and Hillis’s agent were publicly deemed too far apart to come to terms and contract negotiations halted mid season. It is a business and this was simply a business strategy, and a smart one, set out by the Browns front office. If Hillis goes on to have a monster season you pay him the money he is asking. It isn’t like you don’t have it. But if Hillis has struggles and doesn’t post the numbers you can save some money and bring him back at a more modest price. The front office called Hillis’ agent’s bluff on the contract and it seems to be favoring them.
The media, quick to continue on with their unsupported claim that Hillis was not wanted by the Browns, went on to hypothesis where he would end up. The only link they could make was to put him in Washington, reuniting Hillis with his old coach, Mike Shanahan. The same guy who thought so little of Hillis that he traded Hillis for Brady Quinn. This is just a ridiculous attempt at reporting. If the Browns knew they didn’t want to bring Hillis back then why not trade him and get something of value rather than drag out the drama all season long? Sure, Coach Shurmer said in one post-game press conference that Hillis was NOT on the trading block, but who can you believe? The coach of the team calling the plays and organizing the offensive strategy or Kris Knox, featured NFL Writer for NationalFootballAuthority.com.
Lets get back to the real world for a second and leave this imaginary scenario where the guy sitting at home on his couch has a clue what the internal workings of any NFL team is up to, all because he has internet access. The Browns are a perfect fit for Peyton Hillis. They brought him into town and gave him a chance to become a relevant RB in the NFL. He is a hard working God fearing man that the blue collar fans of Cleveland can relate to and respect. He loves it here and the fans love him. Holmgren and Heckert did not want to spend big money on their featured back and now they don’t have to. They can pay a fair price for a guy that can make the difference in the game. A need will be filled and other areas can be focused on in free agency and the draft.
If we don’t bring back Hillis don’t expect the front office to pay big money to some of the bigger names in free agency or spend a 4th overall pick on Richardson in the draft. I don’t see them handing out a big contract to a free agent or a high draft pick if they weren’t willing to hand one to a guy who went to the Pro Bowl and made the cover of Madden based on a national vote of the people.
With Brandon Jackson coming back this year it makes perfect sense to shore up Hillis before free agency and move on to improving the right side of the offensive line and rebuilding the wide out corp. This would allow Holmgren and Heckert the ability to focus on building up the rest of the offense instead of using a high draft pick or big contracts to fill the hole the loss of RB Peyton Hillis would create.