Talks with Peyton Hillis? All's 'quiet'
BEREA, Ohio -- Browns president Mike Holmgren has tired of the drama surrounding Peyton Hillis and his contract.
On Thursday, he did his best to end it.
Holmgren said negotiations between the Browns and the bruising back and Madden cover boy are "quiet now," but the team remains open to signing Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season, to a long-term extension. Unable to reach agreement on a new deal, Holmgren said agent Kennard McGuire and the team have decided to let the season play out.
"No one has called off negotiations," Holmgren said. "No one has said, 'OK, let's wait until the end.' It's still kind of in that floating area where you're waiting for a phone call or you're going to make a phone call. I don't think anybody pushed anybody against the wall on contract talks and said, 'We're done.' It's kind of quiet."
Holmgren said the sides have agreed to "let Peyton play, let the dust settle and see what happens."
That might be the best thing for the Browns (2-3) in what to this point has been another tumultuous season.
Holmgren met with local media for the first time since training camp and addressed a wide range of topics, including Hillis, quarterback Colt McCoy's future, first-year coach Pat Shurmur's performance through five games, Holmgren's own commitment to Cleveland and his plans to build the Browns into consistent winners.
Holmgren was in high demand this week. His former team, the Seattle Seahawks, will play the Browns on Sunday and Holmgren acknowledged "there's a little extra there" as he awaits the matchup.
Hillis has been at the center of controversy for weeks. In addition to his unresolved contract matter, the 25-year-old sat out the club's Sept. 25 game with strep throat, a decision he said he made on advice from McGuire. In the aftermath, there were reports, citing unnamed sources, which claimed some of Hillis' teammates felt his contract was a factor in him not playing.
Hillis, whose role in the offense has diminished this season, was forced to defend himself, and Shurmur endured an awkward news conference in which he said it "was his understanding" that Hillis was sick. The issue seemed over, but resurfaced after Hillis was injured in last week's loss at Oakland and stood on the sideline. The Browns initially said Hillis was being kept out the game by Shurmur before announcing he had injured his hamstring.
The delay in getting an injury update to the press box and TV commentators led to suspicions of a cover-up, which Holmgren strongly denied.
"Peyton was sick in that first game, OK?" Holmgren said. "He couldn't play. He was sick. Most recently he had the hamstring and I found out that everyone was concerned during the game on Sunday, 'What's happening? He's not in there.' It's not this major conspiracy deal going on. It's just he had an injury. He tried to go again. He couldn't go. It's something that happens every Sunday with any number of teams all the time. But because of the previous stuff that happened with Peyton it became more noteworthy or newsworthy, but that's where it sits."
Holmgren also scoffed at reports the Browns were interested in trading Hillis before Tuesday's deadline.
"There's no way I'm trading Peyton Hillis," Holmgren said. "Why would I do that? Why would I trade one of our best players?"
Hillis was not available in the locker room following Holmgren's news conference. He hasn't practiced the past two days and it's not known if he'll play Sunday against the Seahawks (2-3). Hillis was hoping to be the next Browns player to get an extension, following Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, tight end Evan Moore, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and linebacker Chris Gocong,
Hillis is in the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him $600,000 this season. He can be a free agent in March and Holmgren said the Browns will pursue Hillis even if he tests the open market.
"Are we going to be a player in there (free agency) to try and keep him here?" Holmgren said. "Absolutely. I told him that yesterday."
As for McCoy's future in Cleveland, Holmgren was, as expected, noncommittal. The second-year quarterback has struggled this season while running Cleveland's new West Coast offense. Holmgren, who coached Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, has been impressed with McCoy's development and knows he has a lot to improve upon.
McCoy will start for the Browns this season. Nothing is set after that.
"I say, wait, let's see how he plays," Holmgren said. "Are we committed to Colt? Absolutely. Will we be committed after the season's over? I will always be committed to the players on this team. Does it guarantee him the starting quarterback's position for the next how many years? Well, we'll see. He's doing everything we're asking him to do. I want him to do well, everyone's rooting for him because it's important and I know he's trying real hard."
On other Browns' issues:
• Holmgren praised Shurmur, who didn't have the benefit of an offseason program because of the NFL lockout and has had to navigate through some injuries and "a storm cloud" already this season.
"He's doing fine," Holmgren said. "He's a solid guy. I believe in him 100 percent."
• The Browns will likely hire an offensive coordinator for next season, Holmgren said. Shurmur has also been handling that position, which he previously held in St. Louis. Even if someone new is brought in, Holmgren expects Shurmur to keep his play-calling duties.
"I would think he'd want to. I always wanted to. No one was as good as me, ya know?" he cracked.
• Holmgren, 63, will consider staying beyond his five-year contract in Cleveland.
"I am all in," he said. "I want to feel like I'm doing a good job. I don't want to waste anybody's time. We have a plan and to realize our goals and our plan, it takes some time. I don't know what the future holds, but absolutely, I want to be here."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press