The Cleveland Browns awarded Joe Thomas for his four-year tour of football excellence yesterday as both sides reportedly agreed on a contract extension that will pay upwards of $84 million over seven years. Even though Browns fans should be excited that Thomas will be around for the better part of the next decade, there is still one key player on the roster that will become a free agent at the end of 2011-12.
Peyton Hillis is in the final year of his rookie deal and will only be making a little over $500,000 this season at base salary. The Browns have already paid larger contracts to both of the runners further down the depth chart (Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson). Jackson currently has a larger deal than any rusher on the active roster as he is set to make $4.5 million over the next two seasons.
Is it reasonable to think that Cleveland is waiting on Hillis’ performance during this upcoming season before they dish out a large contract. However, many running backs that rush for over 1,000 yards and more than 10 touchdowns would hold out in order to get a better deal before they ever saw the football field again. Hillis has been in training camp for the last three weeks and has not said one word about his current deal to the media.
Hillis is easily the most noticeable figure on the Browns roster after his cover shoot for the Madden 2012 video game. Colt McCoy is starting to gain some league-wide recognition for his preseason play, but is still not even close to Hillis as far as on-field popularity.
The Browns will risk losing a great football player and fan favorite if they do not look to restructure Hillis’ deal before the 2011 season ends. However, at least Browns fans can be happy knowing that their star running back is playing for a contract, and should be leaving it all on the field on every down.