We've talked a lot about running backs, the Bengals and how they need one. We've talked about possible free agents and possible draft targets and some pretty interesting names have been thrown out. One that we haven't really talked about very often was Browns free agent running back Peyton Hillis.
So, let's talk about it...
Hillis was a seventh-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos out of Arkansas, where he played with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Before the 2010 season, Hillis was shipped to Cleveland along with a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft in exchange for Brady Quinn, which whould be known as the trade-rape of the century.
In 2011, as the Browns' feature back, Hillis ran the ball 270 times for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and his bruising style even earned him the cover of Madden '12. The following season wasn't nearly as good for Hillis. He missed six games due to injury and he split his carries more often with Montario Hardesty. There were also reports of an attitude problem and constant disagreements between the team and Hillis about his contract and future with the team.
Now Hillis is coming off a terrible season and he wants a long-term contract that the Browns are unlikely to pay. They could use the franchise tag on him, but that would cost them $7.7 million for 2012 and they may decide that's too pricey as well. The Browns, like the Bengals, have two first-round picks and could draft a guy like Trent Richardson, who would likely be much more versatile than Hillis. However, they are rumored to be one of the teams interested in Robert Griffin III and may have to package both of those first-round picks together to move up and grab him. If they do that, it would be smart to keep Hillis around, though they still have Hardesty.
So, nobody really knows whether or not Hillis will even be available, but if he is, would you want him? He has a punishing run style that is perfect for the AFC North, but at the same time, he's not very versatile and is strictly a between-the-tackles kind of guy. The Bengals would likely have to use Bernard Scott more often as a change of pace back to keep things fresh if they did have Hillis running between the tackles for them. If the injury problems that plagued him in the 2011 season are all behind him and he's healthy, would he be a good fit in Jay Gruden's West Coast offense?
I personally say yes, but only at the right price. The Bengals would be incredibly wrong if they spent a boat load of money on Hillis, not because he's not worth it, but because they probably don't need to. If the Bengals were to steal him away from their northern neighbors and he could turn in a 2010-like performance, he would be well worth the money. However, if he just repeated the 2011 season, he'd be a free agency bust.
What do you think?