Now that the Cleveland Browns have locked up left tackle Joe Thomas with a seven-year extension, the team will turn its attention to signing other core players. Running back Peyton Hillis would appear to be the next in line to receive a new deal, as he is entering the final year of his rookie contract that will allow him to earn the four-year minimum of $555,000.
But is signing Hillis to a long-term deal the right move for the Browns to make? With just one solid season under his belt – a season in which he ran for 1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns while catching 61 balls for 477 yards and two more touchdowns – there is no guarantee that he will come close to those numbers again or, worse, stay healthy. Hillis’ running style is not kind to his body, and it was evident in 2010, as he battled injuries for much of the second half of the season.
Most likely, the Browns will give Hillis a fair amount of guaranteed money and let him earn the rest of the contract. Luckily, the team is flush with cash to spend (they have more than $18 million in salary cap room) and can afford to take a chance on Hillis. Of course, one can also consider the fact that contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed, further allowing teams to make a risky move like the one the Browns are aiming to make.
Even when you consider the potential risks that would come with signing Hillis to a long-term deal, it is obvious that the Browns have a plan in place. There have not been many opportunities for the team to sign key players to big contracts because, well, there haven’t been any great players to sign. To have the chance to sign another core player to a long-term contract just shows how far this team has come from even two seasons ago. The deal for Thomas and the potential deals for Hillis and the rest of the team’s young players are signs that the front office is building for the future, and going about it in the best way possible.