This is the 24th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Peyton Hillis' future in Cleveland was a story line all of last season, and especially when he missed the Week Three game vs. Miami with strep throat on the advice of his agent. Hillis struggled thereafter. A hamstring injury suffered in the Week Six loss at Oakland kept him out the next five games. Only at season's end did Hillis start to come close to recapturing his form from 2010, when he rushed for 1,177 yards and racked up 477 yards receiving. According to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Hillis' solid finish to the 2011 campaign has the Browns open to re-signing him, but they will not overpay or use the franchise tag on him. Hillis' market value could be hurt by a March 1 report from ESPN that Hillis contemplated retiring during the 2011 season and considered pursuing a career with the CIA. Further complicating matters is the fact that Hillis will be represented by a new agent during negotiations, as he and Kennard McGuire ended their relationship. Hillis reportedly used three different agents during the 2011 season.
Notes: Acquired in the March 2010 trade that sent QB Brady Quinn to Denver, Hillis emerged as the featured back and offensive MVP in his first season in Cleveland. The 6-2, 250-pound Hillis' bruising style and storybook rise to stardom resonated with the publc to the point that Hillis was selected, by fan vote, for the cover of the popular "Madden" video game. However, he may have squandered at least some of that goodwill with his disappointing 2011 season.
Positives: Hillis is a classic, between-the-tackles bruiser who can get tough yards after contact and wear down a defense during the course of a game. However, he's not just a two-down back; his pass-catching ability makes him a legitimate every-down option. Hillis is quite nimble for his size and has some long speed, and he's no fun to catch or tackle once he gets to the second level. Relatlvely speaking, the 26-year-old Hillis has not been heavily used throughout his pro career. He has 613 combined rushes and receptions in four NFL seasons, and he had just 321 touches in four seasons at Arkansas.
Negatives: Hillis' bruising style leaves him susceptible to taking a lot of hits. He has played in all 16 games just once in his NFL career — his breakout 2010 campaign. And even during that season, he was bothered by nagging injuries that may have limited his effectiveness at times. Also, the controversy that swirled around Hillis last season could raise some red flags with potential suitors. His 2011 season was going badly enough at one point for teammates to reportedly have met with him to address some of their concerns with him, according to Yahoo! Sports.
Risk factor: Moderate. Hillis can be an effective starter and even the focal point of a ground-based offense at his best. His disappointing 2011 season didn't help his earning power, which thereby lowers the risk for interested teams. Considering his age, productivity and health, he could prove a free-agent bargain on a short-term, prove-it deal. The longer the contract, however, the greater the risk with Hillis.