The Kansas City Chiefs made their first foray into the 2012 free agent market, signing former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis.
Reports indicate that Hillis has agreed to a one-year, $3-million contract with the Chiefs. He is coming off an injury-marred, drama filled 2011 season in which his rushing yardage plummeted after a career-high 1,177 rushing yards in 2010.
In Kansas City, Hillis will be reunited with the team’s new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who filled that position with Cleveland in 2010. The Chiefs will pair Hillis in the backfield with Jamaal Charles, who also enjoyed a breakout 2010 campaign before missing 14 games last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The Chiefs were in the market for a power back after the combination of Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle and LeRon McClain failed in that role last season. Hillis will fill that role in 2012 and also provide insurance if Charles struggles in his return from injury or isn’t ready to assume a large workload early in the season.
Hillis established himself as the Browns key offensive weapon during the 2010 season, gaining 1,177 yards on 270 carries and catching 61 passes for 477 yards while scoring 13 touchdowns.
However, he struggled during his last five games of the season and suffered through a miserable 2011 season in which he topped 100 rushing yards just once while being criticized for complaining about his contract, missing a game due to strep throat and angering the team’s management due to missing treatment for his various injuries.
Reports out of Cleveland indicate the Browns were so disenchanted with his behavior that they failed to make him a contract offer.
The good news for Hillis is that he will be playing for an offensive coordinator who believes in him and has had success rushing the ball over the last two seasons (witness career seasons for Hillis in 2010 and Reggie Bush in Miami this past season). It is also nice that Hillis will be motivated to perform in order to secure a more lucrative long-term deal after the 2012 season.
However, there is no sugarcoating that Hillis would have been given every opportunity to compete for the starting job with Montario Hardesty in Cleveland but in Kansas City, he has almost no chance of unseating Charles as the team’s starting running back.
While Hillis had an opportunity to enter 2012 as a mid-tier RB2 in Cleveland, he will be no better than an RB3 or flex option in Kansas City. For reference, take note of Thomas Jones’ 2010 production as Charles’ backup when he gained 896 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That production is Hillis’ upside for the coming season, assuming Charles remains injury free.
Given that it was known that the Chiefs were in the market for a power back and his production splitting time with Jones in 2010, Charles’ value remains static as a top 10 fantasy running back, again assuming he is sufficiently recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2011 season.
Since that injury occurred early in the season, expect Charles to be ready to assume a full load early in 2012 although he is unlikely to produce at his 2010 levels until mid-season at the earliest.
In Cleveland, quarterback Colt McCoy, the team’s current starter but with no guarantees that will remain the case on opening day, loses his best pass catching threat out of the backfield while Montario Hardesty immediately climbs to the top of the depth chart.
Unfortunately for Hardesty and his fantasy owners, the Browns are almost certain to replenish their running back depth chart and there is a possibility the team will use the 4th overall pick in the draft on Alabama running back Trent Richardson. In addition, they could look to the free agent market where the options currently include Michael Bush, Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jacobs, amongst others.