Joe Thomas unloads on Peyton Hillis for putting contract above team


Running back Peyton Hillis returns to Cleveland this weekend, a year after the Madden curse impacted him in an unprecedented way.

Hillis wanted a new contract, and his desire to cash in got in the way of his performance.

On Wednesday, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas confirmed what had been long suspected regarding a tumultuous season that included rumors and reports of Hillis using illness and injury as an excuse to demonstrate his displeasure with not getting paid.

It was a terrible distraction,” Thomas said, via the Associated Press.  “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 became the unexpected workhorse of the Cleveland running game in 2010, after second-round rookie Montarrio Hardesty was injured.  Hillis racked up more than 1,100 yards, and he won a popular-vote tournament to become the cover athlete for Madden 12.

“He was everything people knew about him — hard-working, blue-collar, tough, would do anything for anybody on the team,” Thomas said.  “All he cared about was winning, and then all of a sudden the next year, all he cared about was trying to get his new contract.”

Thomas specifically pointed to Hillis leaving the team to get married during the season, at a time when he needed treatment for injuries.

“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’ [yes, Thomas used air quotes . . . take that, Kuselias] and you should be getting treatment, to go do your own thing repeatedly was just disrespectful more than anything to his teammates.”

Thomas said that players tried to get through to him, to no avail.

“You see a lot of guys in contract disputes, like Matt Forte,” Thomas said.  “His solution was, ‘I’m going to go out and prove they have to have me and they can’t play without me.’  The frustrating thing to a lot of teammates was you would 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 the right way to do it and it ended up not being the right way and hurting everybody.  Not just himself.  It was a tough situation.”

Hillis ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs.  Thanks to the comments from Thomas, who admirably went on the record and didn’t hide behind anonymity, it’s safe to say that Hillis will receive a less-than-warm welcome when he re-enters the Factory of Sadness on Sunday.

80 responses to “Joe Thomas unloads on Peyton Hillis for putting contract above team

  1. It’s easy to pile on Hillis, but remember, Hillis never had the financial security Joe Thomas had. Thomas was a first-rounder, Hillis was a 7th rounder.

  2. Memo to NFL Players: If you want to be loved & respected by both the Media & the Fans…then periodically be open & honest like J.T.

  3. Granted, Hillis was a douche for looking out for his financial well-being over the team’s future, but hearing it from a guy who is set financially for life (what Hillis wanted) rings a little hollow.

  4. I don’t disagree, but I’m not sure its the place of the guy that got 50 million guaranteed before playing a down in the NFL to tell the guy making 500 k and had actually earned a raise to put money aside for the team.

  5. As Florio points out, Joe Thomas deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to go on the record with this, even though what he has to say is rather saddening.

    And by the way, if it’s possible to feel sorry for a multimillionaire football player, you have to have some sympathy for Thomas. He could be a Hall of Famer, but his whole career he’s been stuck on a team that just can’t win. I sure hope the Browns get their act together while this guy is still in his prime.

  6. Great, great article–one they should hand out to every guy going through a contract dispute.

    Even as a Steelers fan, I thought Hillis not only screwed the Browns but also insanely sabotaged his own career. He was an unlikely star who blew up his own stardom. Just a sad thing to watch in every respect. Can’t believe the Browns are taking him back. Hope he’s humble enough to appreciate the opportunity to work again with Thomas, an NFL great who has always given his best even when nothing’s going right around him. Hillis could learn a lot from a guy like Joe Thomas.

  7. they ruined the MADDEN NAME when putting him on the cover

    i thought u had to have a good year or make the playoffs to be on the cover, or a notable dude,

    hillis is and was whack

    he aint RIGGINS thats for sure,

  8. Maybe Joe should have taken a pay cut so the team would have more flexibility to pay the guys that aren’t first round picks. Easy for you to say Joe, you are super rich. You got paid way more than you deserved by being a 3rd overall pick in a lucrative situation and that’s not as easily said for Peyton who was the 227th pick in the 7th round and felt he had a good case for playing above his drafted slot.

    Your bashing of this player is inappropriate and not credibly worth anything, except to cost you fans, such as this one. At least you still have your massive amounts of millions though so what do you care?

  9. I lost a lot of respect for Hillis as a player last year with all this stuff. I hope Cleveland stuffs him all day, and the boo birds rain down on him.

  10. I think the record speaks for itself. Thomas has played in every game since becoming a Brown. He never held out, never was hurt, and has never been a distraction. When asked, he speaks the truth. Class act.

  11. Can’t help but love everything about joe Thomas. Dude speaks the truth, and has the balls to stand behind anything controversial he says. I’d bet you will never hear an anonymous story that came from him.

  12. I can’t blame NFL tailbacks for holding out and being selfish, nor can I blame NFL teams for treating the position like a 3-pack of paper towel.

    Use, discard, replace.

  13. When a classy guy and team leader like Joe Thomas goes off on you like that, you really must be a knucklehead.

  14. That’s the most I ever heard (read) Joe Thomas speak since he was drafted and damn if I don’t love him more now than ever before. Talk about a guy who “gets it.”

  15. Yeah, right Joe… and the Cleveland front office should have just PAID the man like he deserved, instead of dragging it out.

    Take a look UPstairs before you starting lobbing grenades at fellow players.

    Bravery for not going anonymous? Hardly…
    I’d say…. foolish for opening his mouth on this one.

  16. Hillis was a great trade by Holmgren and Heckert. Fantastic value, but the youngster just let the hype get into his head and became a jerk.
    I wonder how he feels watching the game from the bench.

  17. Not gonna be an easy day for Mr. Hillis on Sunday. Not only do your former teamates think you’re a D’bag, Cleveland fans will surely remember your antics from last year. Factory of “madness” is gonna get loud!

  18. Joe Thomas the multi-millionaire ripping on a dude that probably had a couple hundred thousand dollars to show for his NFL career at that point. Priceless.

  19. What about the Browns’ role in all this? They had a blossoming star on their team and refused to pay him even a modest raise! He used what leverage he had against them to no avail, but at least he tried standing up for himself.

    The Browns will always be losers…

  20. For all the clowns piling on Joe Thomas for because he had a great rookie Thomas, you seem to forget Joe mentioning the other players who told him the same thing, and his best friends also. Not to mention giving a perfect Matt Forte example.

    So Joe Thomas’ contract has absolutely nothing to do with it. If what Thomas said is true, he received the same advice from all kinds of players, including some who had already been where he’s been

  21. The issue has nothing to do with how much Joe Thomas makes or how little Peyton Hillis did. It has to do with a players integrity and how that affects his team and teammates.

    Playing games like Hillis did is the wrong way to get a new deal. You don’t even have to take the hits like Forte did. Hold out if you’re going to hold out, just don’t show up and fake it.

    He got what he deserved, a lousy one year deal. Karma works out like that sometimes.

  22. sirsupersouthern, its true the Browns have no credibility here … but Hillis could well have wanted a Chris Johnson deal. He wasn’t exactly acting rationally about this.

  23. I mean Joe Thomas has the most financial security and is the best at what he does. When your a blue collar rb in the Nfl you can replaced on draft day by a 3rd round pick or just as easily gey hurt without true compensation for your work. That being said football is a team sport. What Hillis did was wrong for the team but maybe not for himself

  24. Some of you crack me up. “What about the Browns’ role in all this? They had a blossoming star on their team and refused to pay him even a modest raise!”

    Are you kidding me? What team in their right mind would pay a guy who would fake injury after injury because he felt as if he needed to throw a childish temper tantrum? Grow up people, you guys sound more idiotic every post you make!

  25. Mike Holmgren’s Reasons We Didn’t Win The Superbowl:

    1) Peyton Hillis’ contract dispute
    2) We’re the effing Browns.

    (In no particular order)

  26. Actually bartpkelly, Hillis was traded for by Mangini. They gave up Brady Quinn for Hillis and a 7th rounder. I read Mangini wanted him specifically.

  27. I’m all for players “getting there’s” but, as JT said, Hillis didn’t employ a very effective strategy by playing hardball with zero leverage as a good (not great) player at a marginalized position.

    Hillis started buying his own hype and thought his situation was akin to Emmitt Smith and the ’93 Cowboys. And at least Emmitt didn’t have kumquats in his mouth, hiding behind an “injury”.

  28. The end result was definitely a loss for Peyton. But really, how can you blame home for holding out. An NFL career last an average of 3 years. A starting running back has a limited shelf life. For Peyton to protect himself long term, and financial security for his family, what’s wrong with him holding out? You can argue that he’s held to a prior commitment (signing) but what don’t teams need to remain committed to those same players through injury or poor performance. Any argument against Hillis is generally baseless.

  29. For those of you that didn’t get to see hillis run in 2010, there are probably a few things you don’t know. Hillis got injured toward the end of the 2010 season, and he came back much slower than before the injury. From the very beginning of the 2011 season, it was obvious that hillis was not the same player he was in 2010. There’s a steady stream of players in the NFL that have had one good season, and tried for the huge contract in the next year. I’d suggest to other players that they prove their worth more than trying to highlight their past deeds. He would have gotten paid had he put up another 1000 yard season instead of playing hookey and being a disruption to the team. I’m sure that hillis knew he’d lost speed, and was looking for his retirement check.

  30. It’s easy to paint Hillis as the bad guy but the dude was making next to nothing as far as an NFL salary, and he was a workhorse.

    Running backs usually only get ONE payday in the NFL. I can’t blame Hillis for what he did given his position. Sure it’s not putting the team first, but the team won’t be paying for his retirement 30 years from now.

  31. This a week after Hillis lead a very motivational per-game prayer for the Chiefs. Clearly Chiefs players respect him, they will now likely fight especially hard for the guy. Especially now that some overpaid, 1st round LT, that’s done nothing to help the browns, spouted off. I’ll take the Chiefs by 7. Browns and Chiefs, same level of suck but at least the Chiefs get in the playoffs occasionally.

  32. For all of you saying it is easy for Thomas a millionaire to say this, Keep in mind the Browns offered him more than he signed for with the Chiefs.

  33. When Hillis came to the Browns and produced, the city completely embraced him, especially in spite of a Mangini/Daboll led offense. I loved the guy in 2010, he ran guys over and had amazingly soft hands for a big back. My complaint at the time was ball security. He did turn into a complete cancer in 2011 and had every opportunity to earn his next contract through performance in 2011, but was either a complete rockhead or took some bad advice. Let’s be clear, there was a time when Cleveland loved this guy, but he dug his own grave.

  34. Thomas lost a lot of respect in my book for that.

    Thomas was a first round pick with a contract exceeding $43,000,000.00. Peyton Hillis is a 7th rounder making league minimum with no financial security. Ha he gotten hurt, the Browns would have cut him loose with nothing.

    He was right to hold out. The Browns should have paid him.

  35. Regardless of what Thomas earns, I think the point was that Hillis was taking the wrong approach to getting a better deal. You can see that reflected in his present contract. That he was hurting the team, just highlighted the irony of it.

  36. Say whatever you want about JT going off on Hillis and that it’s easy for him to say because he made his money before he even stepped on the field, but let’s be honest, Joe Thomas has earned every cent he has been paid. He got his money before he even showed up for his first practice and STILL put his heart and soul into everything he has done for Cleveland. Regardless of the fact that he has been paid well, he has also played near flawlessly and has earned every penny.

  37. When Josh Cribbs needed a new contract Cleveland paid the man. Hillis would have gotten paid too if he wouldn’t have flaked out with shady injuries, and scampered off to Arkansas to get married during the middle of the season. As far as the Browns knew he was thinking about becoming a CIA agent the following year. Did he have 3 or 4 agents during the course of that season? Sound like a stable dependable place to invest money if you’re a GM?

    Joe Thomas was drafted in 2007 and has not missed a pro bowl or even an offensive snap since the day he was drafted. If he’s not worth a high contract who is?

  38. JOE THOMAS SHOULD BE DISGRACED TO GO AGAINST A FORMER TEAMMATE IN FAVOR OF MANAGEMENT! NFL teams are constantly looking for your replacement, especially at running back. For a player to take the side of management when a legitimate star player is playing for peanuts is such a lame move. Lets get the take from an undrafted free agent, and see if they feel the same way. Not 1st and 2nd round picks who receive bigger signing bonuses than Peyton Hillis’ career salary.

  39. Peyton Hillis was never going to be allowed to be the franchise RB for all the same reasons nobody seems interested in a 6’/234# 4.4 40 yrd dash bruiser of a back who is fantastic at pass-blocking, receiving, and averages 4.4 ypc and 8 ypc named Toby Gerhart.

    The NFL doesn’t want “those kind” of RB’s anymore. Just ask Brian Leonard or Jacob Hester.

    It took SIX injuries before Hillis was allowed to play regularly.

    And all of these guys were forced to witch to FB from RB despite equal or better speed, size and strength.

    Anybody remember who Jason Sehorn was?

  40. I never liked the wanta-be Mike Alstott — from being white to wearing 40 to dragging 7 defenders to down the field to being on a video game cover* he just wanted to be like Mike.

    *Alstott was the coverboy for NFL Xtreme on the Playstation –remember that? Me neither.

  41. For those that are ripping Joe Thomas, remember that on every NFL team there are 5 guy that are under producing based on contract and 5 guys that were late round picks, undrafted FA’s, journeymen that are out playing their contracts.
    Winning teams it’s everyman on board, losing teams it’s xyz is getting paid more than me so i ‘m not trying my hardest.

    A Raider problem for years………’s called character.

  42. The guy was a one bit wonder !!! You let ur play do the talking = get paid & nice to see someone criticize someone and know who they are instead of ” anonymous person “

  43. YO JOE!! How about you give up part of your $50,000,000 security blanket YOU got when you were drafted? Guys like Hillis and welker etc,,,get the same money a car salesman make (undrafted or late round) 150,000. Meanwhile rock stars like yourself, put on a hat for the cameras,,shake the commish hand,,,and pick up a check that sets you for life,,,before you even step on the field. You talk about TEAM? Really? How far is your team gonna go without a good RB? Great tackles,,no RB. So you can block all the day long,,,to no avail. But be happy,,you got your money for your family. 15 years from now you will own a string of car dealerships,,,while 7th round picks like Hillis are parking cars or being a phys ed teacher at elementary school.

  44. Joe Thomas telling the truth about what Hillis was really like his last year in Cleveland…it’s a breath of fresh air.

    Many fans (including me) thought Hillis was faking his injury over his contract issues but it was never confirmed until now.

    Thanks Joe…

  45. Question for Browns fans…

    When Hillis was going through the contract dispute with the Browns, was Thomas vocal and on the record back then?

    If not then doing it now is just blowing steam and giving the Chiefs bulletin board material.

    Calling an ex-teammate out in the media after the fact is not the sign of a team leader or even a good teammate. Hillis’ actions while with the Browns are well documented and I’m not trying to defend him, but I think that Thomas’ actions here speak to the overall team dynamic at the time and it doesn’t say anything good.

  46. I can’t believe some of the comments I’m reading. ESPECIALLY the ones calling out Thomas for being a spoiled millionaire. Is it Joe Thomas’ fault that he played well enough at his position to get picked in the first round and Hillis was the 3RD BEST back on his college team? Also it’s not like Thomas is the the best left tackle in the NFL who’s made the pro bowl EVERY SEASON HE’S BEEN IN THE LEAGUE or anything (oh wait…he is). The guy is on his second contract and never had to pull what Hillis did because he let his play speak for him. He earned his money. Hillis was so valuable to the Broncos after his first 3 seasons they snuck him into a trade just to get rid of him. Then only had 1 productive year in Cleveland out of the two he was there.

    On the other hand Cleveland fans should be thanking Hillis. He admitted to the Cleveland media the Browns offered him a 5 year, 26 million dollar deal despite him no showing the team and he turned it down and fired every agent that advised him to take it (which was ALL OF THEM). Browns pulled it off the table after that and used the draft pick from him no showing to get Trent Richardson. What’s the saying “Sometimes you’ve got to know when to fold em”. Fame made him a head case and he got what he deserved.

  47. Said it before and I’ll say it again–until the owners structure the contracts to be performance based instead of what you did in the past we will continue to see this behavior. It’s how us working stiffs have the corporate structure in place—pay for performance now—not what you did for me in the past.

    Several good points were made regarding Thomas’ security and how Hillis was holding out to achieve the same. Howard Cossell used to refer to the rookies playing with ,”Wreckless abandon” until they signed their BIG contracts. Then production went down!!

  48. It’s unfortunate what occurred between Peyton Hillis and the Browns but ultimately Hillis had to get his money. I don’t want to burst bubbles but most of these guys do not play the game because they love the game, they do it because it’s a means of financial security.

    Hillis was a pleasure to watch but he led himself to his own demise. When later round draft picks, or undrafted players rise to stardom they feel like the window is only going to be open so long before the dream ends so they want to cash in.

    At the end of the day, professional athletes are just like you and I. They want to get as much money as quickly as they can and will go to great lengths to do so. Fortunately for us, we do not have cameras in our face or make the front page when we make stupid decisions.

    It comes with the territory though.

  49. The 3 year career number is a myth. It counts all the camp fodder that never make it which is about 20 to 30 guys per team per year. The average career for starters is longer. Hillis was not in poverty and his behavior was childish. The Browns did offer him a new contract but he wanted more and then had to settle for less money with the Chiefs.

  50. I’m sorry but … did Joe Thomas just blame Peyton Hillis for all the other Browns players failing to get the job done?

    This is why the Brown are the Browns.

  51. Hillis undoubtedly received bad advice from his agent, who just so happened to be his brother. I think Hillis now realizes his mistake and he ended up dumping his bro in favor of a first rate agent. His peculiar behavior really did hurt the Browns last season and it really hurt Colt McCoy’s reputation as a QB since he didn’t have a running game to help him out.

  52. Plenty of other RB’s have held out in the past and their teammates didn’t universally turn against them. There had to be more than that going on that Joe still isn’t saying. As several players/coaches alluded to last year – you don’t know half the story.

  53. Who is saying that Hillis shouldn’t have tried to get his contract renegotiated? Thomas said there is a right way and a wrong way. Hillis went about it the wrong way and in the long run hurt himself and his team.

    You want to get paid? Go out and play for your contract. You want to hold out? Go for it.

    You want to be a poison pill and drag everyone down with you by acting like a primadonna? Here’s your ticket to Kansas City, one of the few places more disappointing to be than Cleveland.

  54. Browns offered Hillis 3 years $26 million before last season started, he turned it down. he pulled his stunts and wound up with a one year $3 million deal with Kansas City.

    For anyone saying Thomas is wrong, yea he got a ncie fat contract and signing bonus as a rookie, but he backs it up on the field. Every year of his career he’s been a Pro Bowler. He hasn’t missed a single snap.

    There’s ways to do things and ways not to. Acting like a queen and tanking your team just pisses off your teammates.

  55. hikohadon says:Dec 6, 2012 9:42 AM

    Plenty of other RB’s have held out in the past and their teammates didn’t universally turn against them. There had to be more than that going on that Joe still isn’t saying. As several players/coaches alluded to last year – you don’t know half the story.

    purposely no showing rehab for his “injuries”.

    Being shown on camera doing random dumb things while being “injured”.

    Doing a print interview saying how he’d take a hometown discount to stay in Cleveland yet admitting to turning down a $26 million dollar deal offered to him in the SAME INTERVIEW

    and my personal favorite

    no showing a heavily promoted charity event for kids.

    That’s just whats publically known. The guy flaked out big time.

  56. I’d love to have both of them in GB. Joe’s a Wisconsin boy and Hillis is the bruising back we do not have.

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