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Posted by Nov - 5 - 2011 0 Comment

This time last season, Peyton Hillis heading into a contest against New England  where he would run roughshod over the mighty Patriots, gathering 184 yards on 29 carries and 2 TDs. My how things are so much different a mere 363 days later. From Madden cover boy to poster child for despondent self apathy, Hillis has truly fallen from grace. Peyton Hillis was the talk of the town in 2010, and often the talk of the NFL as well. The latter is typically unfamiliar territory for Browns players, unless NFL Network is doing a “worst of..” segment. But HIllis took the Northcoast and the NFL by storm, the afterthought throw in player of the Brady Quinn trade. Stories of him dragging fire trucks about his hometown added to his suddenly fascinating lore, and the pro football world appeared to be Hillis’ oyster. Then, came 2011.

One of the post-lockout stories that quickly grew legs was Hillis’ contract situation. Given his outstanding performance last season and potential for this one, his $550,000 salary in his final contract year was insufficient compensation for a guy looking to hit his prime. Hillis hired new management, for the second time in as many years, and publicly expressed his desire for a new deal. Not completely uncommon in the NFL; just kind of a necessary evil of the business. Still, his consternation with the lack of progress on that front was obvious to his team mates, and was compounded by highly questionable misuse (i.e. lack of use) by new HC Pat Shurmur. Sprinkle onto that Strepgate for the Miami game, and then a nagging hamstring injury, once that threatens to derail his entire season, and you find yourself with the unravelling of a young player’s football career in Cleveland. There’s no way anyone saw this coming this time last year.

The common knucklehead will chalk this up to the proverbial Madden Curse, known to afflict most game case cover boys. So we will quickly dispel that ridiculous theory. Curses are used to excuse the unexplainable. When we see something happen that defies logical explanation, we revert to a druid-like state and blame a curse. Hillis’ situation is relatively simply, and in retrospect should have been easily avoided. The Peyton Hillis situation is a perfect storm of a young player in unfamiliar territory with insufficient management. That is not to say that Hillis is simply the victim of an agent who is giving him bad information. Hillis has said things and acted in ways that only he can take responsibility for. But any agent/management group worth its salt in modern day pro sports needs to be cognizant of their client’s inexperience when going through things like this for the first time, and provide him with guidance and advice when they see said client act in ways that are detrimental to their desired outcome. Players hire agents to handle everything non-football, so they can focus on football alone. When a young player does things and says things that fall outside of the bounds of his football responsibilities, a worth agent or representative will not only take spin control of the situation, but advise their client on the dangers of said actions and how to better handle that situation. Kennard McGuire has apparently found that outside the scope of his responsibilities. To date, the only obvious advice that McGuire has given his client was to sit out the Dolphins’ game when Hillis was not feeling 100% due to strep throat. So at the very least, in that scenario the agent led his client to situational slaughter. There was no win for Hillis in that situation, and his agent clearly should have known better than to put Hillis in a place to make a decision that had the potential to be as damaging as it ended up being. Toss in whatever miscommunication that took place between Hillis and his management team regarding the missed appearance on Halloween, and you now have a collection of circumstances that have allowed him to look as bad as he has, all the more damaging in his contract negotiations. Sometimes, an agent must save his client from himself, and that is certainly a bit of a contributing factor here. Regardless, proper management does just that: manage. That is something they have failed at miserably.

And the Browns aren’t without blame in some of this. Comments from Pat Shurmur have been ill-conceived and makes one question just how in touch with his team he is. As well, this is not the first free agent situation this organization has faced, and has to realize that regardless of the misguided comments and actions of the Hillis camp, it still reflects partly on the Browns right or wrong. They could easily make a quick comment to resolve a situation, or even better, instruct all involved to say nothing at all. As they say, its far better to say nothing and be thought an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

In the end, the one who will suffer most is Hillis. The Browns will move on and purchase other talent at his position, and the ball keeps rolling. But Hillis is very likely done in Cleveland, and the shadow this prolonged episode has cast will reach much farther than the confines of Northeast Ohio in terms of the NFL. Now I will offer you this. In no way am I about to imply that I am even so much as acquainted with Peyton Hillis, but I spent the day with my son at Hillis’ football camp at St. Ignatius a few months back. I was there from sunup to long after camp ended, and was active and observant throughout. You know who else was? Peyton Hillis. He was there from before the first drill until well after the last, and was very active at each station with each kid. He was extremely considerate of families in attendance. He was unflinching in my wife’s request to have a picture taken of Hillis with my young daughter, making time amongst everything else when he didn’t really have it to spare. He was engaging with the players in attendance, sharing with them bits of advice in between moments spent cutting up with them. It would be a safe bet to say that he spent at the bare minimum 30 seconds one-on-one with each of the over 300 kids in attendance that day. He genuinely enjoyed himself, but not nearly as much as he enjoyed the time with the kids. At a lot of these pro player camps, the star athlete shows up for a speech in the morning, makes an appearance at lunch, one at the end of the day, and jets off to any other place than where he’s at. (Just as Adrian Peterson about pro camp appearances.) As a parent and youth coach over the last several years, I was genuinely impressed by the effort Hillis put into a camp bearing his name. So from this seat, to see the fall from grace that has befallen Peyton Hillis is truly disheartening. What makes it almost maddening (no pun intended) is that the worst was preventable, by all parties involved.

Categories: Cleveland Browns

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