It appears as though Peyton Hillis wants to return to the Browns next season. And reportedly, the Browns appear willing to at least take steps toward welcoming him back.
The Browns have too much at stake to risk re-upping a mercurial personality who definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. Simply put, you never know what you’re going to get from Hillis.
Is he the pounding, punishing runner of 2010 who surprised just about everyone in the National Football League with a sensational season? Or is he the enigmatic, injury-hampered running back of 2011 who can’t be counted on from game to game?
After being the major player in a soap-opera story line that lasted more than half the 2011 season, a healthier Hillis managed to rip off a couple of decent games down the stretch when the Browns were hopelessly out of contention and changed a few minds.
His Jekyll/Hyde behavior, which angered his teammates and severely disrupted the Browns’ offensive scheme all season, should raise a red flag for Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. At best, he is unreliable. He can’t be trusted.
But that doesn’t seem to matter to coach Pat Shurmur, who was impressed with his exit interview with Hillis at the end of the 2011 season.
“I’ll tell you what,” Shurmur told the media, “Peyton and I had a great conversation. He’s an all-star player who was dealing with an injury in the middle part of the year and then came back. I really liked what he did at the end of the season.”
And then there’s this little nugget dropped by Hillis after a 112-yard rushing effort against Baltimore in the penultimate week of the season:
“I’m a Cleveland Brown at heart. Since I’ve been here, I fell in love with the fans and the city and the people that live here. They’ve been nothing but 100% supportive through everything when I talk to them. And it’s good to have a second family backing me like that.”
Oh brother. What tripe. A con man in a football uniform.
Sadly, some people buy into that. And those are the fans who will be disappointed the most. Those are the same fans who defend his actions, but fail to see the young man’s warts.
Hillis most likely will turn out to be a one-year wonder who had a chance to be more than that but blew it when he became – to borrow an old-fashioned term – too big for his britches.
So now, the Browns’ brain trust has a decision to make. And it could have an impact on what the club does in the first round of the college football draft in April with Alabama’s Trent Richardson most likely on the board when the Browns are placed on the clock.
If the Browns buy Hillis’ line about coming back to Cleveland to play for the Browns and wind up signing him, then they deserve what they get. But if they think this through and realize the running back brings more to the table than they can handle, they’ll end up making the correct decision.