Hillis Back — But Too Late?

After Sunday, the Cleveland Browns have put themselves into a dilemma.  What should they do with Peyton Hillis?

It’s not something they need to decide right now.  But the end of the season is close, and it is then the Browns will have to decide if they let Hillis go in free agency to another team.  Or team President Mike Holmgren can re-sign the enigma.

After 6 weeks off because of a hamstring injury, Hillis returned to action Sunday. He rushed for a team-high 65 yards on 19 carries in Cleveland’s 23-20 loss to the Bengals.  Hillis didn’t run with abandon like he has in the past, but he put on a performance that will make the Browns think again about letting him go.

Earlier in the week, Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Hillis was out for the Bengals game.  However Hillis made a “miraculous” recovery and pronounced himself ready to play just before game time.  Many are questioning the reason for the comeback.

For 5 weeks, the Browns running game has been nonexistent.   Cleveland has been outgained on the ground by 460 yards this season. The team relied on the passing game and barely ran the ball.  Then came the awakening of Chris Ogbannaya.  Against St. Louis, Ogbannaya ran for over 100 yards.  Before that he rushed for 90 yards.

Suddenly the Browns became a balanced offense.  A team that could produce all the plays the vaunted “west coast” offense could supply.  Colt McCoy started to look like a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL.   A substandard beginning to the first season under Shurmur was starting to show progress for the first time.

And Hillis was on the sideline.  Already this season, Hillis has shown his tendency to listen more to his agent than team officials.  The second game of the season, Hillis missed because of strep throat.  That game caused several Browns players to question the heart of the running back.  Later it was disclosed Hillis missed the game on the advice of his agent, who was seeking a new contract from the Browns.

Over one month ago it was reported the Browns were tired of the act and were prepared to let Hillis walk in free agency after this season. At that time the sources said the Browns would only re-consider if Hillis had a dramatic turnaround in behavior and production.

Now the Browns are showing improvement without Hillis on the field.  In looking for a new contract, Hillis and his agent saw that improvement.  Suddenly the hamstring didn’t feel so bad and returning to the field seemed like a good idea.  Money seems to be the incentive players today need and want.  Just look at Chris Johnson and Matt Forte.

Sunday might be the first step for Hillis, or he could go back on the injury list next week.  The Browns will watch him closely and make a decision after the season.

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