Peyton Hillis wanted to retire with the Browns. Now, he’s wondering and worrying if he has a future in Cleveland beyond the next 12 games.
Hillis, whose stalled negotiations with the team on a contract extension have spawned weeks of analysis, conjecture and rumor, said Monday he has no regrets about sitting out the Sept. 25 game against Miami with strep throat, a decision – reached with the advice of his agent – that fueled reports he missed the game to protest not getting a new deal.
Hillis is in the final year of his rookie deal and will make a base salary of $600,000 this season. As for next season, he beginning to doubt he’ll be around.
”Whenever something’s not set in stone, then I guess anything is possible, which means your career’s not here,” he said. ”So, yeah, that definitely worries me.”
The Browns returned from their bye week with the Hillis matter remaining a hot topic. Following the team’s first practice since last Wednesday, Hillis stood in the middle of Cleveland’s locker room with his arms folded across his chest for more than 10 minutes answering questions about his contract.
Hillis could have ended the controversy.
Instead, it lingers.
Last week, agent Kennard McGuire told The Associated Press that he cautioned his client not to play against the Dolphins for fear Hillis had been weakened by the illness and could have jeopardized his career by playing and getting hurt. Hillis said he considered McGuire’s guidance before deciding it was best to sit out.
”It was his recommendation, but it was ultimately my choice in the end,” Hillis said. ”We both knew how sick I was and how bad it could be for the team and for myself if I had tried to play, so it wasn’t just my agent’s decision. It was mine also and he was just looking out for me.”
Hillis said without McGuire’s counsel he might have tried to play.
”I am stubborn and I am hardheaded,” he said. ”By the way I was feeling, I just needed somebody else’s opinion.”
Hillis’ absence from the Browns’ win over the Dolphins was followed by an ESPN report, citing unidentified sources, that some unnamed players in Cleveland’s locker room felt his contract situation may have been a factor in him skipping the game. Hillis said he was not disturbed by the report and that he and McGuire decided to keep the story fresh in the media because he wants to remain a Brown.
McGuire also told the AP that Hillis has been affected by the ongoing contract talks and feels ”underappreciated” in Cleveland.
Hillis downplayed being distracted by his uncertain future in Cleveland, but acknowledged he wishes his contract situation could be resolved.
”You feel unappreciated because you want to get something done and nothing has gotten done at this point,” said Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. ”You don’t know the ultimate feelings in the end of what’s going on up top (in the front office). You take it with a grain of salt and you keep moving on.”
Hillis insists the talks aren’t putting any extra pressure on him to perform.
”I wouldn’t say weighing on me. I’d rather say just being patient,” he said. ”I’ve got to be patient and ultimately the decision’s not up to me. You’ve got to go out there and play your best. It’s about what you do on the football field.”
Part of Hillis’ frustration stems from the Browns taking care of other players.
The team has signed several of its young ”core” to extensions, and to this point, Hillis isn’t one of them. In the past two months, Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, tight end Evan Moore, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and linebacker Chris Gocong have received new deals.
Team president Mike Holmgren recently said the Browns were ”trying like crazy” to sign Hillis, a comment that may have led to unrealistic expectations around the talks.
McGuire has remained in ”close contact” with the Browns throughout the season, but the sides remain apart. Hillis said he doesn’t know where things stand at the moment and his only focus is getting ready for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
”Perception is reality,” he said. ”People take what they want to from things. I feel I play hard every time I step on the field. I think everyone can see that I give my full effort, so whatever people think that’s their opinion, but it really doesn’t affect me.”
Although Hillis’ situation has been a constant around the team, Moore said it’s not a distraction.
He believes it will all go away.
”Peyton and those guys upstairs will get the situation handled the right way,” Moore said. ”It’s definitely not for us to concern ourselves with. If we start to get involved with that, we can quickly be told to keep our mouths shut and go back to work. We all have a job to do and that’s definitely not our job to worry about that.
”Peyton will be fine. They’ll get that thing worked out.”