Few players in the NFL appear to exert more physical effort every time they touch the ball on Sunday than Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis.
His toughness and hard-nosed running landed him the starting job in Cleveland’s backfield and helped a relatively unknown player produce some of the best individual rushing numbers in 2010.
But three weeks after he elected to sit out Cleveland’s Week 3 game against Miami while dealing with strep throat, many are questioning Hillis’ dedication to the team.
With two weeks to stew over the decision during the Browns’ bye week, speculation is bubbling over that Hillis skipped the game to protest not getting a new contract. And now the 25-year-old is voicing his doubt that Cleveland will re-sign him beyond this season — a disappointing reality for a player who has said he wanted to retire with the team that gave him a shot at the starting running back job one year ago.
Hillis has claimed his decision to skip the Dolphins game — a decision his agent, Kennard McGuire encouraged — was not motivated by his contract situation. But it’s clear he doesn’t feel the Browns are doing all they can to re-sign him.
“You feel unappreciated because you want to get something done and nothing has gotten done at this point. 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, who rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 270 carries last season, will make a base salary of $600,000 as he plays out the final year of his rookie contract.
Browns team president Mike Holmgren recently said the team was “trying like crazy” to sign the Madden ‘11 cover boy, but Cleveland seems to be taking care of several of its other young players first. Within the last two months the team has given extensions to Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, tight end Evan Moore, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and lineback Chris Gocong.
“Perception is reality,” Hillis 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.”