The Madden Curse has once again reared its ugly face. However, unlike in past years when the curse made its presence known in the form of exploding knees, broken legs, and diminished skills, the curse has taken on a new form in 2011.
The contract dispute.
After a highly successful 2010 season where he gained 1600+ total yards and 13 TD’s, Peyton Hillis was chosen as the Madden 12 cover athlete based on a national, NCAA bracket style voting competition. Browns fans voted in waves to push Hillis onto the cover, laughing in the face of the curse in the process. Now, almost 6 months later, Browns fans may be regretting this decision for one simple and undisputable fact.
Peyton Hillis wants to get paid.
In reality, it’s hard to blame Hillis for wanting a significant raise. In 2011, Hillis is slated to make $600,000. That’s a far cry from the multi million dollar salaries being dished out to players with lesser numbers and even lesser profiles. When Hillis looks around the league, or even his own locker room, and sees players of lesser stature being paid millions of dollars in guaranteed money, it’s no wonder we’ve arrived at this point. How could we not? Hillis plays the game in a hard bruising style unlike that of his contemporaries such as Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Frank Gore. While all of those players rely on speed and quickness to varying degrees, Hillis makes his yardage, and therefore his living, by punishing opposing defenses with a style of running that hasn’t been seen since the hey day of Larry Csonka.
Along with this style comes certain inherent risks. Any play could be Hillis’ last for the week, the season, or even his career. This risk is heightened by the fact that Hillis doesn’t shy from the contact. He embraces it, and as a result the city of Cleveland has embraced him as one of their own. He symbolizes the blue-collar, hard-working nature of the city and it’s inhabitants. He’s become more than just a football player. Thanks to his ascension as the face of the franchise and the face of Madden, Peyton Hillis has become the face of the city of Cleveland.
The Browns on the other hand refuse to acknowledge this fact. Despite the fact that Hillis has gone out week after week and put his body on the line for their organization and made them what I can only guesstimate to be millions in additional revenue thanks to merchandise bearing his name and number, the Browns continue to play hard ball with their most and arguably only marketable asset. In the process, they have seemingly vilified Hillis, placed unneeded pressure on second year back Montario Hardesty, and created a rift in the Browns fan base as wide as the grand canyon concerning the issue of whether or not they should pay Hillis long-term.
Things came to a head this past week when reports began surfacing about Hillis’ motives in sitting out the Browns September 25 game against the Dolphins. The situation is mind-boggling. Hillis, who was sick with strep throat, was first reported to be sent home by the team. Then it was reported he sat himself out, followed by reports of him sitting due to his contract, which led to his agent saying he advised Hillis to sit. Now Hillis is in spin control saying his decision to sit had nothing to do with the long-term effects, but rather the effect him playing under the weather would have on the team.
Heading into the bye week there were rumors swirling that the Browns were shopping Hillis for a potential trade. To say this situation had spun out of control would be like saying Red Right 88 and the Drive were minor disasters in Cleveland sports history. If the trade rumor was or is true it only raises more question marks not just on Hillis’ future, but the future of the Browns as a whole.
The Browns are barren of any real talent on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, Colt McCoy and Montario Hardesty have potential and yes, Josh Cribbs is a big play threat, but Peyton Hillis is the lone weapon on the Browns roster that opposing defenses have to game plan for. Hillis is the only player whose presence on the field can completely alter the oppositions game plan… and the Browns might be willing to part ways with that? Why? Because he wants to get paid just like every other player in the NFL who puts together a monster season and becomes the man?
The last I checked, the Browns were not in a position to play hardball with anyone. Given their track record since 1999 in terms of drafting, signing, and developing players there is little to no guarantee Hillis can be replaced at the drop of a hat. Why then create another hole at a position that appears to be already filled? The Browns should be embracing Hillis the same way the city of Cleveland has, as a diamond in the rough that fell right into their lap almost on accident and pay him accordingly.
I’m not saying Peyton Hillis has to be paid Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson money. I’m simply saying Peyton Hillis needs to be paid at fair market value and right now, that isn’t $600,000. Yes, Hillis is a risk given his style of play, but that’s exactly what the NFL is. To be an owner or GM in the NFL is to be in the business of risk. Why then take that risk on the unknown when you have a proven commodity sitting in your own locker room, wearing your colors, and running out onto the field every Sunday giving his all for you with that faith that you will return the favor. Instead the Browns continue to pay role players who have yet to prove their worth or show even a fraction of Hillis’ value in the long run, Chris Gocong and Evan Moore anyone?
By no stretch of the imagination is Peyton Hillis the answer to all of the Browns problems. He’s also not the cause of them either. No, the cause of the problems of the Cleveland Browns remains the same now as it has been since their rebirth and it continues to show with each and every mind numbingly bad move.
The cause of the problems for the Cleveland Browns is the Cleveland Browns themselves.