BEREA — Running back Peyton Hillis stood with his back against an empty wooden locker in the middle of the spacious room Monday, surrounded by cameras, microphones, tape recorders and notebooks. He answered questions for about 11 minutes, many of them regarding the lack of a contract extension he desires.
A similar scene has played out once a week for the last month as the ongoing dialogue between team and agent has failed to yield a new deal. Hillis insisted Monday the constant discussion of his contract isn’t weighing on him and that he must remain patient.
But he admitted he’s concerned he might not realize his dream of finishing his career in Cleveland.
“Nothing is set in stone,” he said. “I guess anything’s possible, which means your career’s not here. That definitely worries me.”
Hillis has been dominating headlines and talk radio discussions for weeks. He didn’t play in Week 3 against Miami with a strep throat, reportedly causing teammates to question if the contract dispute played a role in his absence.
Agent Kennard McGuire tried last week to take some heat off Hillis, but only added to the scrutiny by saying he advised Hillis not to play against the Dolphins.
Hillis then took to Twitter to state his case.
“if I could have physically played against the Dolphins I would have. I love this city and hope to retire here,” he tweeted.
On Monday, Hillis thanked McGuire, whom he hired recently, for his advice and said he trusts him to look out for his best interests. Hillis said he doesn’t regret not playing, but probably would’ve if not for McGuire
“It was his recommendation, but it was ultimately my choice in the end,” Hillis said. “We both knew how sick I was and how bad it could be for the team and for myself if I had tried to play.
“I have to give him thanks, because he’s looking out for me because I am stubborn and I am hardheaded and I like to go out there and play even though I was probably not up for it.”
Hillis doesn’t appreciate the backlash generated by his sick day.
“The sad part about it is, I’m ashamed that anybody would think that I would never play if I didn’t think I could benefit the team,” he said. “I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’ve always been a guy to wear my emotions on my sleeve and go out there and do the best I can. Treat every day like it’s my last day and I treat every play like it’s my last play.
“So I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play and if anybody thinks anything else bad about me, so be it.”
Hillis tried to downplay the lack of a new deal, but acknowledged it makes him feel unappreciated by team management.
“You feel unappreciated because you want to get something done and nothing has gotten done at this point,” Hillis said. “You don’t know the ultimate feelings of what’s going on up top.
“I wouldn’t say weighing on me. I’d rather say just being patient. I’ve got to be patient and ultimately the decision’s not up to me. At the end of the day it’s about what you do on the football field.”
The money and years being asked for by McGuire and offered by the Browns are unknown. But the gap remains wide.
Hillis said he has “no earthly idea” where negotiations stand, but added they’re not at a point where he could end the uncertainty by signing the deal proposed by the team.
“No. As of right now, haven’t really worked out anything that could make me say either/or,” he said.
Hillis is making $600,000 in the final year of his four-year rookie deal, the league minimum. He disagrees with those who suggest he doesn’t deserve a big contract because he’s had just one year of success. It was an impressive year, as he came out of nowhere to rush for 1,177 yards and total 13 touchdowns in 2010.
“If you want to stack things up like that, that’s fine,” he said, “but every time I’ve been in the ballgame and had a chance to produce, I’ve always produced. I’m not worried about my playing ability. It’s not about that.”
Coach Pat Shurmur has been ready to move on from the Hillis drama for more than a week. He said he talks to Hillis every day.
“From a coaching standpoint I want to move on and watch him play against the Oakland Raiders,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s where he’s at as well.”
“Coach Shurmur is a great guy,” he said. “There’s no bitterness between us.”
Tight end Evan Moore said the team isn’t distracted by the Hillis situation and is confident he’ll get a new deal.
“Peyton and those guys upstairs will get the situation handled the right way,” he said. “It’s definitely not for us to concern ourselves with. But Peyton will be fine. I think they’ll get that thing worked out fine.”