It wasn't that long ago that Peyton Hillis was a 1,000 yard rusher, a player coming off a season that was solid enough to get his face on the cover of Madden 12
Now, just two years after that honor, Hillis finds himself looking for work, but it appears that the door might be opening on a situation that could be beneficial for everyone involved.
Hillis was a breakout star for the Cleveland Browns back in 2010, tallying nearly 1,600 total yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. That season got Hillis on the cover of Madden, but things went downhill quickly after that.
Peyton Hillis has signed a one-year deal w #Bucs.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) July 23, 2013
The 2011 season began with Hillis grousing about his contract. As the Associated Press via ESPN reported at the time, Hillis' decision to sit during a September game that season with strep throat caused some to question his commitment to the team.
Hillis left Cleveland for Kansas City after the 2011 season. When the bruising running back returned to Cleveland last year as a member of the Chiefs, offensive tackle Joe Thomas didn't mince words according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
I think it was better for both sides [that he left]. At that point, the situation with him here was toxic. He didn't want to be here and players didn't want him here and it's better just for a fresh start at that point.
You guys tell me -- you think strep throat and I don't know whatever else injuries he had [a pulled hamstring] should keep you out of an NFL game? Or several? All I know is [center] Alex Mack had appendicitis. His appendix blew up, and he played.
People who thought they were very close friends with him ... he wouldn't listen to anybody. He thought he knew what was the right way to do it and it ended up hurting everybody, not just himself. It was a tough situation.
Hillis was a disappointment in 2012 with the Chiefs, missing three games and averaging a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. He had more lost fumbles (two) than touchdowns (one).
Given that lackluster performance, his recent injury history, and the bridges he burned in the locker room in Cleveland, it's fair wonder what the Buccaneers could possibly see in the fifth-year pro.
That is, until you look at the depth chart at running back in Tampa.
Sure, the top of that depth chart is set with scintillating second-year tailback Doug "The Muscle Hamster" Martin (seriously folks, we have got to get that kid a better nickname), but behind Martin the cupboard is alarmingly bare.
Mike James is a sixth-round rookie who has yet to log an NFL carry. Michael Smith has speed, but his diminutive size could make him a liability in pass protection. Brian Leonard is a serviceable third-down back, but he's not much more than that.
Hillis, on the other hand, has been an every-down featured back at the NFL level, and a successful one at that. During that breakout 2010 season, Hillis was the NFL's second-ranked running back according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). he ranked seventh in PFF's pass blocking efficiency metric.
Granted, Hillis may well never approach those heights again. However, assuming Hillis is healthy, he could at least serve as a short-yardage and complementary back who could take a bit of the load off Martin's shoulders.
As great as Martin can be, Tampa can't have him carrying the ball 375 times this season. They'll run him into the ground.
If healthy (and that's a fair-sized if), Hillis could help in that regard, and he's a much more proven option than anyone the Buccaneers have on the roster right now.
Hillis will also have to show the coaching staff in Tampa that he's learned from past missteps. With that said though, it's not like Hillis is the first professional athlete to ever let success go to his head, and the past couple of seasons have to have been a pretty humbling experience.
At the end of the day, it's not like signing Hillis would take any real risk on Tampa Bay's part. The financial investment would be minimal, and the guaranteed money would all but certainly be non-existent.
If he can't stay healthy, cut him loose. If Hillis becomes a locker room problem, there's the door.
Signing Peyton Hillis carries zero risk, and the possibility for a fairly substantial reward. Heck, the team doesn't even have to free up a roster spot. Releasing cornerback Eric Wright leaves them with an opening.
Given the Buccaneers' lack of depth at running back, and the team's hopes of contending for a playoff spot in 2013, it's not a bad idea at all to use that opening to take a flier on Peyton Hillis.