The issues surrounding Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis have been well-documented this season. It’s easy to dismiss him, to throw away the notion that he could be on this team next season. But in the last two games, returning from a hamstring injury that cost him five straight games, it has become abundantly clear that the Browns need to sign him to a new contract.
That’s not to say that Hillis deserves the kind of deal that he would have received at the beginning of the season – the $6-$10 million a year ship has most certainly sailed. At this point, Hillis could be a bargain signing, thanks to an incentive-laden deal.
But even when one doesn’t consider the monetary aspects of it, simply watching Hillis play should be reason enough to want him on the team. He’s a player that defenses have to consider on every play, not just because he’s an effective runner, but because he’s also a threat as a receiver. For instance, on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Hillis only had 45 rushing yards on 12 attempts, but he connected with Colt McCoy on a 52-yard catch that set up a field goal (naturally). Surprisingly – or perhaps unsurprisingly – that one catch made Hillis the leading receiver for the Browns in that game.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Browns need to consider their other options at running back. Montario Hardesty is proving himself to be a liability (though that was known when the Browns drafted him) and, beyond that, it’s a cavalcade of uncertainty.
With that kind of upheaval at running back, it seems as though the Browns could draft a player like Trent Richardson and be set for years, but there is a far more pressing concern on offense – the wide receiving corps. If this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Browns have one of their worst crops of receivers in their entire modern existence. It is imperative that the Browns use a top pick on a wide receiver, a playmaker who can spread the defense.
Peyton Hillis may not be the long-term option at running back for the Cleveland Browns, but it’s worth re-signing him to find out. He’s only 25, and could be entering the prime of his career. Keeping him in Cleveland for a few more years could buy the Browns additional insurance at the position and the ability to build up a complete offense. It’s a risk, sure, but a necessary one.
Think of it this way: if Julio Jones had been drafted by the Browns in 2011, the offense would likely be in a better position. It was the right move to trade down for more picks, but now is the time for the Browns to grab that type of player. Re-signing Peyton Hillis simply gives the organization some much-needed breathing room.