Hillis Drama Continues Into Free Agency

Barring a late surprise, Hillis will test his value on the free-agent market before he decides whether he wants to return to the Cleveland Browns.

Say this for Peyton Hillis: His saga has been as consistently bizarre this offseason as it was during the 2011 season.

The end result: Barring a late surprise, Hillis will test his value on the free-agent market before he decides whether he wants to return to the Cleveland Browns.

Then it's up to the Browns to decide whether they want him back, how much they want to pay him and whether his talent counter-balances the drama that seems to follow him.

"We'll just have to wait and see how things go," Browns general manager Tom Heckert said in a media get-together last week. "Probably after Tuesday."

Tuesday is when the free-agent signing period begins. Where this leads with Hillis is anyone's guess. He already has gone down a circuitous route that has included his former agent advising him not to play in a game because of strep throat and him throwing a football 60 yards before a game when he was out because of a pulled hamstring.

Hillis was so out of sorts last season that several team leaders held a celebrated private meeting with him. They essentially grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him and yelled "wake up." The goal was to try to get him back to being the player who carried the Browns' offense in 2010. Except it didn't work until he ran for 241 yards in the final three games of the season. He said he was just trying to play for his team. The cynics said Hillis realized it was his last chance to show his skills before he became a free agent.

"I liked what I saw when he was in there playing healthy," coach Pat Shurmur said.

Since the season ended, the Browns negotiated with Hillis but came to no resolution. The team said it wanted him back, but clearly the price had to be right. So far, that price has not approached right.

The team has kept the negotiations quiet, but during the season a three-year, $15.5 million offer was reported. That $5.5 million average isn't unfair for a player, such as Hillis, who essentially has had one successful season as a starter.

About a week ago, Hillis switched agents for the third time and took himself back to where he started, apparently signing with his first agent Jimmy Sexton. A story broke soon after Hillis parted ways with Kennard McGuire that Hillis had talked with teammates last season about retiring to join the CIA.

Both Shurmur and Heckert said they never heard Hillis say anything like that.

Hillis then gave an interview to the Plain Dealer in which he denied the CIA tale, and said the day he had strep he was delirious with a fever — yet people saw him drive himself home from the stadium. He said he rehired Sexton to work out a deal with the Browns. If that's true, the Browns don't seem inclined to rush. Heckert said the team and Hillis both are on record that they would like him on the Browns — at the right price.

"How that comes about, whether he has to wait until he see what happens in free agency, that's fine with us," Heckert said. "We're willing to do that."

Hillis also said the Browns' offer to him was for $25 million or $26 million for "four or five years" (Hillis' words), with only $1.2 million per year in the first three years and a large amount not guaranteed in the final year or two. The lack of guarantees prompted Hillis to reject the offer.

If true, this deal would go against everything the Browns have done with other players. D'Qwell Jackson, Chris Gocong, Joe Thomas and Ahtyba Rubin all got new deals with healthy guarantees.

That type of contract also would be highly unusual for a starter at a premium position. As a standard practice, teams do not offer a starter that low a guarantee with that size contract. Doing so would invite a certain rejection and make the offer a sham.

Assuming Hillis reaches the free-agent market, it will be interesting to see what happens. Oakland's Michael Bush is considered one of the better backs who will be available. The Giants released Brandon Jacobs, and the Colts released Joseph Addai. Both will draw interest.

Nobody has stated this publicly, but the picture that has been painted is that Hillis overvalued himself after one season as a starter. Nobody disputes he can play. The dispute simply is in his worth in dollars and cents.

Hillis should learn quickly where he fits.

Pat McManamon appears courtesy of FoxSportsOhio


The OBR Top Stories