Hillis spent 2011 in a contract dispute with the Browns. He wanted a long-term deal after a breakout 2010 but didn’t get it and went public with his dissatisfaction.
“It was a terrible distraction,” Thomas said this afternoon after practice. “He crippled our offense. We were struggling to find anybody who could carry the ball after all the injuries we had.
“To have Peyton going through a contract dispute and basically refusing to play, it was a big distraction. But more than anything, he was our starting running back that was a good player who was going to help us be a successful offense. When he’s not there and you don’t have anybody to turn to, it makes it hard to win. And that’s the distraction, it’s not being successful.”
Hillis took grief for sitting out a game with strep throat, then suffered a hamstring injury that lingered throughout the season. He missed one of his rehab appointments to get married in Arkansas.
“It was kind of one weird thing after another more than anything,” Thomas said. “We have guys getting married during the season and it’s not a big deal. When you’re injured (Thomas used air quotes) and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates. I don’t think people would have acted the same way if they were in that situation.”
Thomas is a team captain and respected member of the team. He admitted the issues with Hillis became personal. The team leaders even tried an intervention.
“You see a lot of guys in contract disputes, like (Bears running back) Matt Forte, his solution was, ‘I’m going to go out and prove they have to have me and they can’t play without me,’” Thomas said. “The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you try to talk to him and you try to tell him ‘That’s not the right way to do it if you want to get your big contract.’ He just wouldn’t listen to anybody. People who thought they were very close friends with him … he wouldn’t listen to anybody. He thought he knew what was the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and it ended up hurting everybody.”