With an offseason rife with question marks and holes in dire need of filling, and a coverboy running back about to finish up a tumultuous season, one of the many decisions being placed squarely on the shoulders of the Cleveland Browns front office surrounds the future of one Peyton Hillis.
In the last two weeks, the 250-pound back has amassed 211 yards and a touchdown on 50 carries. This period marks what has been Hillis’ largest usage rate since his 31 touches in the Week 2 win over Indianapolis where he totaled 117 yards and two touchdowns. The issues at hand are the 12 weeks in between that saw last season’s savior suit up for a mere five contests, recording more than 12 carries just once. Hillis’ offseason issues have been writ large; injuries, illness and alleged mid-week nuptials are just a small portion of the 800-pound gorilla that continues to loom in Berea as the player is also in the final year of his rookie contract.
At this point in August, it appeared that the team was ready to lock up Hillis for the foreseeable future as they were spending the bulk of their available cap space on core players who would be a part of the rebuilding process. Now, after what was at best an up-and-down season, his future remains largely uncertain as the team heads into their Week 17 matchup against the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I think as we look at our roster and we look at building our team I think we need to consider everything,” said head coach Pat Shurmur, of Hillis, during Thursday afternoon’s press conference. ”One thing you’ve seen about Peyton is in the last month or so he’s gotten himself back healthy and he’s performed well. That’s the Peyton I think that everybody here is used to seeing from a year ago and that’s what I’m starting to see now.”
If we use “everything” as the operative word, we’re looking not only at Hillis’ mental make-up and physical potential, but the best way to address other holes as well. It seems, on the cover, that re-signing a rare back and using the draft and free agency (gulp) elsewhere makes sense. But does it?
Opting to skirt most of the issue, deflecting it to what he considers “offseason discussions,” Shurmur was uncommitted at best when it came to his would-be star running back. Conversely, the head coach was quick to loft praise at place kicker Phil Dawson as well as several rookie players who, per him, have managed to break through the rookie wall and show consistency down the stretch. But when it circled back to Hillis, all Shurmur would say is that he has “gotten to know him better” as the season wore on.
Serving as a bit of a recap, The Plain Dealer caught up with Hillis who is now a believer in the infamous “Madden Curse,” due to his bevy of injuries and issues. And while he can cast blame on misguided spirits for the strain sustained by his hamstring, it’s tough to blame anyone but the player when it comes to the way he handled a variety of off-field problems which ranged from listening to his agent and sitting out a game, skipping a charity event, and forcing his teammates to have an intervention on a plane ride back to Cleveland.
Unfortunately for Hillis, this season coupled with his run with the Denver Broncos prior to being packaged with a draft selection in a trade for quarterback Brady Quinn, it is looking like his 2010 season is more of the aberration than the one surrounded by issues galore. He is finally back to saying all of the right things, telling media that he wants to be in Cleveland beyond New Year’s Day and has really enjoyed his time spent.
Also unfortunate is that, unless he’s willing to take a shot to his pride and accept what the Browns offer him to remain with the team, it may be too little too late.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)