Hillis Didn’t Play Last Sunday Due to Contract Issues?

When a sick Browns running back Peyton Hillis showed up for practice on September 23, first-year head coach Pat Shurmur sent the 1,000-yard running back and Madden ’12 cover player home. Over the weekend, it was reported that Hillis had strep throat and Shurmur was concerned the illness would spread throughout the team’s locker room (not to mention coaching staff).

Hillis missed the Browns’ 17-16 win over the Dolphins last Sunday, a game that saw 2010 second-round pick Montario Hardesty stepping up to average nearly five yards a carry (14 attempts for 67 yards) in his first extensive action after missing his entire rookie season with a torn ACL.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that there is a sense within the Browns locker room that Hillis’ decision to not play against the Dolphins was influenced by his contract situation.

Acquired from the Denver Broncos in 2010, Hillis, a former seventh-round pick out of Arkansas, is in the final year of his rookie contract that included a (2011 CBA enhanced) base salary of $600,000 this season. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound running back hasn’t hid his desire to remain in Cleveland beyond 2010 and the Browns are interested in bringing him back.

Thus far, the Browns front office has locked up key players for the future, signing Joe Thomas, Evan Moore, Ahtyba Rubin and Chris Gocong to multi-year extensions, so it’s not as if they’re not willing to make deals. Re-signing Hillis would appear to be a priority, but has changed agents twice over the last few months, replacing James Sexton with Kelli Masters before hiring Kennard McGuire.

Long-term, big-money contracts for running backs tend to be risky investments, and the Browns have some leverage in the form of Hardesty. If the Schefter report is true, and there’s no reason to think it isn’t, the Browns may want to identify and jettison the players in the room who question Hillis’ motivation for missing Sunday’s game before showing him the money.

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