No matter how important professional sports are to our everyday lives, we’ll never really be comfortable with athletes making millions of dollars at our expense.
So back when Cleveland Browns fans first heard that Peyton Hillis was demanding a new contract—one that would pay him a more than generous sum—Browns fans naturally reacted with, “Is he crazy, he’s not worth that much money, he only had one good year. Psh, typical athlete.”
Couple that with Cleveland sports fans being instinctively uneasy when it comes to their teams signing players to lucrative deals, only to see that certain player under perform. Browns fans weren’t exactly furious with the organizations apparent stance to let Hillis walk this offseason.
But I was. And I still am.
In the world we live in—the one where we handicap the capitalistic operations of professional sports and tell guys they aren’t worth the millions they are paid—Peyton Hillis does not deserve the kind of money he’s asking for.
But if you remember the other world we live in—the one where Browns’ fans would do just about anything short of self castration to see the Browns become winners—Peyton Hillis is well worth the money he is asking of the Browns.
Despite what you’ve been trained to believe, the Browns can afford to pay Peyton Hillis. Should they, though?
If you watched the Browns this year, you may have noticed that the offense operates differently when Hillis plays. When he returned to the lineup for the last six games, the Browns were simply a better looking team, competing in every one of those games aside for one of the Baltimore games.
Being that the Browns play in the AFC North with three defensive powers, Hillis is worth the splurge of money.
In 2010, Hillis led the league in standard deviation of yards per carry for all backs who averaged more than three yards per carry. That means that every time Hillis carried the ball, he was more likely to carry it for his average of 4.4 yards than any other back in the league. You can interpret that as a bad thing because it indirectly tells us that he’s not breaking off big runs (we already know he’s not the fastest back in the league), but, really, it’s a beautiful thing.
This season, Hillis’ average per run was way down from 2010, but once again he finished right near the top in deviation per carry. You won’t hear anyone talking about Hillis’ or any other players’ deviation of yards carrying the ball primarily because it’s a just-born statistic with a lot of kinks and flaws to still work out.
But all in all, the stat—from what I can see—has a healthy amount of relevancy. The deviation statistic was essentially developed to distinguish the Chris Ogbonnaya and Montario Hardesty-type players from the Peyton Hillis-types.
Compared to Hillis, a back like Hardesty is more likely to break free for a big gain of 15 yards. But Hardesty is also more likely to be stopped for no gain or a loss—something Browns fans saw a lot of when he and Ogbonnaya were splitting carries in Hillis’ absence.
In fact, in comparison to Hillis, every back in the league is more likely to be stopped at or near the line of scrimmage. If you’re the Browns, a player such as Hillis is a nice advantage to have on your team.
With the Browns passing attack being as poor as it is, Hillis is the most valuable offensive skill player on the current roster, and it’s not even close. He’s able to consistently pick up chunks of yardage for an offense that is severely limited in that department.
Hopefully the draft will change that.
If the Browns choose to go into next season with either Colt McCoy or a rookie as their starter, they need every bit of those three and four-yard pickups that Hillis is good for—purely as a means to limit the number of long yardage, third-down situations for whoever the quarterback may be.
The overexposure to third and long can turn out ugly for a young, inexperienced QB—as we saw with McCoy this year—and short yardage situations are flat out easier to convert.
Hillis isn’t just good for positive yards on any given carry; he gives the Browns a distinct goal line advantage that, really, no other back in the league can duplicate.
This season when running between the tackles, Hillis only had five carries for negative yardage and six that went for no gain. Granted, those numbers probably don’t do much to jump out at you because his playing time was hampered by injuries.
However, that’s the fewest in the league for all backs who carried the ball as many times as he did in between the tackles—not bad considering the gaping hole on the right side of the O-line and the overall lackluster play from the entire O-line unit.
Aside from what Hillis brings on the field...
It’s no secret that the Browns have a terrible offense.
Because they have a lot to address this offseason, it would further stall the team's progress if they had to use a first-round pick on, say, Trent Richardson. It would hurt them even if they used a second, or third-round pick on a RB to replace Hillis.
Draft picks are the most valuable commodity to have in the NFL, so if the Browns let Peyton Hillis walk in FA, they’re essentially trading away one of their picks. I mean, what sounds better to you: The Browns with Trent Richardson and Greg Little, or the Browns with Peyton Hillis, Justin Blackmon, and Greg Little?
The Browns have cap
Going into this season, the Browns had one of the lowest payrolls in the league. As it currently stands, the Browns don’t even meet the minimum payroll of 90 percent of the $120 million cap (which won’t be enforced until 2013).
Since the Browns did next to nothing in free agency, their room for spending this offseason will mean much of the same. With the new CBA making it so that rookie contracts are smaller, it would be kind of insulting to the fans if the Browns let another team snatch Hillis up all because the front office decided to go at the negotiations like they were parties involved in the NBA lockout.
Paying Peyton Hillis isn’t as financially burdening as others are making it out to be. (Since when did we start acting like the money is coming directly from our pocket anyway?) This isn’t the NBA, where teams’ routinely screw themselves over by signing slightly-better-than-mediocre-players to giant, long-term contracts.
This isn’t baseball either, and Browns’ owner Randy Lerner isn’t the cash-cautious Larry Dolan.
You may have noticed that it has become somewhat of a common practice for players in the NFL to hold out for an extreme duration of time for more money. You may have also noticed that a large percent of the time, the player in that situation wins the stare-off and gets his money.
There’s a reason for that: NFL teams are naturally able to be more financially flexible.
The NFL is annually littered with players who under-perform in comparison to the massive sum of money they’re getting paid. The Eagles just gave Michael Vick a $100 million dollar contract and their back up—Vince Young, who they signed to a one year deal—might be the better QB for them.
Behind the scenes, Philadelphia is kicking themselves for doling out that contract to Vick because it was money poorly spent, but the contract isn’t going to be a burden on the Eagles ability to improve themselves over the next five years.
The same story goes for the Cardinals, who have an $80 million dollar Larry Fitzgerald and no quarterback. (Well, in terms of financials, technically they do have a quarterback, Kevin Kolb, whom they prematurely decided to overpay.)
Because the Browns lack a lot of on-paper talent, they are one of the few teams that don’t really have any of those contracts. Hence the reason they have so much cap room and why they’re not that good.
I know that Browns management is trying to do the right thing. I know they don’t want to repeat the mistakes the organization has made in the past. At some point, though, they need to realize that the league is about the present, not three or four years down the road.
That statement sounds uneducated and completely emotional driven, but it really is true. In this league, bad teams are capable of turning things around immediately. We the fans know this and that’s why, like all NFL fans, we’re so impatient.
What I’m trying to say is that Peyton Hillis on this team gives the Browns the best chance to win now.
Hillis free agency situation is nearly identical to that of Grady Sizemore’s this winter. Yeah, both asked for laughable amounts of money and both are injury prone, but regardless of that, the Browns/Indians are a better team with Hillis/Sizemore than without.
The Browns don’t have a Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald to pay, so why not pay Peyton Hillis for the time being? They just made Joe Thomas the highest paid offensive lineman in the game, why not at least make Peyton Hillis the highest paid white running back in the game?
You can rightfully argue that Peyton Hillis is no Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, and he’s not. But to counter that argument, I’ll point out that there’s not anyone else who is Peyton Hillis.
Yes he’s far from being among the likes of the best in the game at his position, and I’m aware that he’s injury prone as well. However, Hillis has a certain skill set that is hard to replace at his position.
The speed that Hillis lacks can be replaced simply by finding a guy with a good 40-yard time. His ability to pass/run block, catch, get tough yards and bowl over defenders isn’t an easy thing to replace.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, Browns’ fans’ happen to like the guy.
Well, they did until the fourth or fifth week of the season. Setting aside all the drama that has come with his injury and contract, he’s the most popular Cleveland Brown. So isn't it part of the Browns unwritten duty to try and retain him because of those reasons?
Doesn’t that factor into the equation when deciding whether or not to fork over a little extra cash? Enough Browns fans have been turned off over the years as it is—seeing Peyton Hillis in a Green Bay Packers or New England Patriots’ uniform wouldn’t do anything to help the cause.
Someone has yet to notify Mike Holmgren and company that this is the sports town where players routinely leave to prosper elsewhere, and if Hillis leaves and returns to 2010 form with another team, we may just be salty enough to force his resignation and eventual fleeing from Cleveland.
So please, keep Peyton Hillis a Cleveland Brown, if not simply for the reason of eliminating the possibility of Hillis becoming a HOFer somewhere else.