- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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This was inevitable. This was necessary. Hillis received a one-year, $3 million contract from the Chiefs. I can give you three million reasons why Hillis and the Browns needed a fresh start, and you don't need to be a member of the CIA to uncover those reasons.
Hillis has a great shot to bounce back and have another 1,000-yard rushing season in Kansas City, where he will reunite with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The odds of that happening with the Browns were slim. Yes, Hillis showed flashes late in the season when he gained 99 and 112 yards in back-to-back weeks. And, yes, the Browns left the door open for Hillis' return, although nothing short of a bargain deal was going to make that happen. But you have to take into account everything that went down last season and realize that it was never going to be like a couple of seasons ago.
All the optimism that was built from Hillis' blue-collar 2010 season (1,177 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns) was ruined by a disastrous 2011 campaign (587 yards rushing and three touchdowns) filled with injuries and innuendos. The perception of Hillis went from a hard-working everyman to locker room diva in a matter of months.
It got to the point where Hillis didn't feel appreciated by the Browns because he didn't receive a contract extension like Evan Moore and Chris Gocong. And the relationship broke down to where the Browns couldn't depend on Hillis.
You can't put all the blame on Hillis for the Browns' disappointing 4-12 season. He was, however, the picture of how the year unraveled.
In addition to the contract mess, he missed a game early in the season with strep throat on the advice of his agent (which caused a controversy over whether he was really sick or protesting the lack of a new deal), failed to show up at a local Halloween party for children (which he blamed on a miscommunication) and went home to Arkansas on a Tuesday to get married during the season when he should have been rehabbing an injury. His relationship with his teammates became so strained by early November that the running back reportedly was "summoned [by eight veteran players] into a meeting room for an intervention-style, air-clearing session designed to restore his focus."
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one Browns veteran told Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver in November. “Last year, Peyton was such a positive, inspirational force on our team -- but now he’s like a different guy. It’s like he’s in a funk that he can’t get out of, and it’s killing us, because we really need him. And we’ve told him that. But we’re at the point where we just don’t know what to do.”
This was too much drama for an NFL locker room. This was too much drama for "Jersey Shore."
How bad did this situation get for Hillis? He eventually believed in the "Madden curse," a theory that trouble falls upon everyone who graces the cover of the popular football video game.
“Yeah, I heard about it,” Hillis said toward the end of the 2011 season, via The Akron Beacon Journal. “I really didn’t think it would affect me. But I can tell you it’s nagged at me a little bit this year. I can’t argue that.”
Hillis added, “Things haven’t worked in my favor this year. There’s a few things that happened this year that make me believe in curses.”
To top off the most bizarre season of any player last year, Hillis contemplated retirement over the past season and even considered joining the CIA, a team source told Schefter earlier this month. Hillis later denied that he considered either one.
Whatever was true or overblown can now be put in the past. Hillis can focus on running over linebackers in the AFC West, and the Browns can determine who will be the next workhorse of the running game (I suggest using the No. 4 overall pick on Alabama running back Trent Richardson).
Sometimes divorce isn't a bad thing. Sometimes it can be a welcome change for everyone.