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Cleveland Browns Free Agent Review: RB Peyton Hillis

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Look at that BEAST stretching for the goal line.
Look at that BEAST stretching for the goal line.

This is the first player review we'll be doing over the next week or so on free agents who were on the Cleveland Browns last season. There will be a common format for each one -- brief overviews on how and when the player came to the team, what their production was like, why we could be interested in re-signing them, what we should do, and finally an open poll from the DBN community. Today, we start with running back Peyton Hillis.

RB Peyton Hillis

How and When He Joined the Browns: There were rumored disagreements between the "fullback" and former head coach Josh McDaniels when the pair were together in Denver. In one of the more unique trades you'll see in football, head coach Eric Mangini and the new front office decided that the team no longer required the services of quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn was traded to Denver, and in return, the Browns received Hillis, a sixth-round pick in 2011, and a conditional draft pick in 2012. The fact that a former first-round quarterback was a bust for Cleveland prevented the scenario from being a win-win. The trade did prevent his selection from being a complete loss, though, because even if Hillis doesn't stay with the Browns next season, he's provided some great memories in a short period of time.

Productivity Level Last Season: Things started off bright for Hillis, who was voted to the cover of Madden 2012. He was entering the final year of his contract, and with all of the positive press Hillis was getting, it seemed like nothing was going to stand in the way of both sides being able to reach a long-term agreement at some point during the season. In Week 3, Hillis suffered a case of strep throat and had to sit out of the game. That led to a firestorm of speculation from the media, as it was suggested that his agent encouraged Hillis to sit out to as some form of a contract dispute. To make matters worse, in Week 6, Hillis suffered a hamstring injury early in the game and had to sit out.

A few weeks later, fans were buzzing when they heard he returned to practice. That buzz went away when he re-aggravated his hamstring during practice, forcing him to miss several more weeks. Hillis finally returned in Week 12 and was able to play the remainder of the season. He had 101 carries for 376 yards over his final six games (3.72 average); a stretch in which he faced the Steelers and the Ravens a total of four times.

Why Keeping Him Could Make Sense: He still fits as an ideal West Coast Offense back in my book. The injuries are always a concern, but he still battled back after the media gave him a bad reputation to have a 112-yard game against Baltimore; that's the second time in two years he has hit the century mark against Baltimore despite not having an offensive line in front of him that excelled in run blocking. Running backs need to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, and Hillis has proven to be more than capable of doing that. He is the one guy who gives the Browns' offense an identity right now; why take that away?

What the Browns Should Do: If the Browns get rid of Hillis, they can't go into next year with Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson, or Chris Ogbonnaya as their starting tailback. The Browns would likely have to draft a Trent Richardson, which in turn throws off the golden opportunity of getting a top-ranked player at the quarterback or wide receiver position. Hillis should not get top-five money, and hopefully his agent understands that the injury issues his client had last year drove down his value. Despite all of the controversy around Hillis last year, he is a core player of this offense and losing him would be detrimental.

Now it's your turn -- vote in the poll below on whether or not the team should try to re-sign Peyton Hillis!