Good trade gets even better
I still remember March 14th as clear as if it was yesterday. I called my friend and delivered the news that the Browns had traded Brady Quinn.
“Great trade!” was the enthusiastic reply. “What did we get?”
Can you believe the answer to that question sounds even better now?
For a quarterback seemingly destined to hold a clipboard for the rest of his NFL career, the Browns have Peyton Hillis plus at least one future draft pick, maybe two.
Of course on the surface that trade would appear to be tilted the other direction. The Browns traded a first round draft pick, who some declared a franchise quarterback for a seventh-round draft pick. Outside of the most hardcore fantasy football players, very few Browns fans had ever heard of Hillis.
Quinn also cost the Browns a second-round pick as the Browns traded up to pick the Notre Dame quarterback who had dreamed of playing for the Browns as a child.
He was in a perfect position to start the 2007 season, but he listened to his agent — who, hopefully, he has since fired.
Quinn missed much of training camp for a contract that may be the worst one ever signed by a quarterback taken in the first round.
So rather than starting from day one for guaranteed money, Quinn came in behind with a incentive loaded contact and watched Derek Anderson blow up during the 2007 season.
The Browns offense never again during Quinn’s tenure had the weapons they had that season.
It was Jamal Lewis’ last hurrah. The loss of Joe Jurevicius took away a safety blanket from Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. By the time Quinn got under center, his weapons were limited and his skill set wasn’t enough to overcome that.
The new Browns regime of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert owed no loyalty to a high draft pick who wasn’t theirs.
Enter Peyton Hillis.
If you didn’t watch the game, you may be wondering why I am so excited about a third string running back. If you did watch the game, you know exactly what I am talking about.
I am still absolutely giddy about the thought of Hillis and Lawrence Vickers running behind the left side of the Browns offense line of Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack.
The left side of the Browns offensive line is the best it has been since the return of the franchise. Vickers is a heat-seeking missile who obliterates linebackers and Hillis is a human bowling ball.
Others can have their beautifully thrown passes and precision-minded offense; I will take hard-nosed smash mouth football every time.
The Browns have struggled at the goal line over the years but I seriously doubt that will be a problem this season.
Hillis has real potential to help the Browns offense take the step forward to legitimacy. He showed off his hands with a great catch last week against the Packers.
Even if he doesn’t supplant Jerome Harrison and the yet-to-be-seen Montario Hardesty, short-yardage situations should be Hillis time this season.
Hillis became a bit of a cult hero in Denver his rookie season in 2008. The Broncos were decimated by injuries at running back. Hillis scored two touchdowns in his first start and two weeks later ran for 129 yards and a touchdown against current head coach Eric Mangini’s Jets.
The following week, Hillis scored a first-half touchdown and then made an acrobatic catch and got blown up by two Kansas City Chiefs. He tore his right hamstring and was out for the season.
With him of the lineup, the Broncos lost their last three games and missed the playoffs. Head coach Mike Shanahan was fired and Josh McDaniels was hired.
The boy genius took one look at Hillis and declared him a fullback only. Hillis barely played last season and McDaniels thought so little of him that he threw him in the Quinn trade.
The signature play of the Browns game against the Rams involved Hillis and Vickers wasn’t even in the game.
Hillis went to the right and bounced off five Rams defenders and they never did take him down. The refs had to blow the play dead because Hillis stood his ground and would not fall down.
After the play, Hillis stomped his foot, flexed his arms and roared to the crowd. Browns fans everywhere roared back.
Welcome home, Peyton Hillis. Welcome home.