Despite reports saying that the Browns are set to let Peyton Hillis become a free agent, it is really his contract that is set to let him become a free agent. If you take Mike Holmgren at his word, this is just a standard contract impasse where the team and agent are too far apart to find common ground on a new deal. Holmgren then said that Peyton Hillis might have a chance in free agency, should his contract expire without an agreement. Lastly, Holmgren indicated that the Browns would actively pursue Hillis even on the open market. Holmgren said, “Are we going to be a player in there to try and keep him here? Absolutely, I told him that yesterday.”
So, what are the Browns’ options? Obviously there is a chance that the Browns and Hillis could still find some common ground on a deal this season. If Peyton Hillis goes out and performs like one of the top running backs in the league, there is a chance that the Browns could decide that maybe the agent’s idea of compensation were a little more reasonable than what they thought. Maybe Peyton Hillis continues to struggle with injuries and he and his representation decide that even though their bargaining power is low, that they can’t risk not having some long-term security for Hillis and they sign something lower than maybe what they initially wanted. Obviously the last step is Hillis becoming a free agent.
If the Browns pursue Hillis in free agency, it could be up to Hillis if the Browns have last opportunity to sign him. If he is bitter about his time in Cleveland or somehow doesn’t think that Pat Shurmur and company are going to be good for him, he could easily do what Eric Wright did and leave the Browns, potentially even for less money.
There’s always the franchise tag, though. The Browns have that in their arsenal assuming they don’t use it up on Phil Dawson for a second straight year. In 2010 the franchise tag for running backs was $8.15 million. The estimated franchise tag for 2011 was $9.5 million, representing a 17% increase. If that increase holds true, the Browns could be looking at about $11 million guaranteed for one season in order to franchise Peyton Hillis.
It is a lot of money to be sure, but it also sways bargaining power to the team in negotiations on a longer-term deal. A one-year guarantee for big money is nice, but for a position like running back where injury rates run especially high, longer term guarantees are certainly preferable.
Ultimately, this will come down to Peyton Hillis and how he plays the rest of this season. Impasses only need be temporary as more facts are established. It seems right now both sides are content to keep putting cards down on the table. Again, if you take Holmgren at his word, he would love nothing more than for Hillis to prove he deserves every dime that his agent is looking for because it would be great for the Browns on Sundays. What’s good for the Browns on Sundays is good for us all.
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