CLEVELAND – Peyton Hillis is out of Sunday's game in Houston, and the way things are going for the Browns running back, it may not be long before he's out of Cleveland for good.
Hillis was downgraded from questionable to out on the team's injury report Saturday, one day after the Browns' beleaguered back reinjured his left hamstring on a running play during the early portion of practice open to reporters. Hillis, who will miss his third straight game with the injury, underwent an MRI.
The team has not disclosed results of the test, but when Hillis was dropped off at the training facility following the MRI, his leg was heavily wrapped and he walked with a pronounced limp. It appears the 25-year-old Madden '12 cover boy may miss a few more games.
If the injury is serious enough, the Browns may choose to place him on injured reserve, ending his circus-like second season and potentially closing his star-crossed career with Cleveland. Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is making $600,000 in the final year of his rookie contract and will be a free agent after the season.
The Browns appear ready to let him go.
Although popular with Cleveland fans, Hillis has irritated teammates with his antics.
"Guys are growing tired of the distractions and always wondering what's next," one Browns player told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The problems began when Hillis chose to speak publicly about negotiations for a new contract with the Browns, talks that have since bogged down. Next came him missing a Sept. 25 game against Miami with strep throat on the advice of his agent, Kennard McGuire, the third agent to represent Hillis in the past year.
Players didn't doubt Hillis was sick, but when Pro Bowl center Alex Mack played a full game despite an appendicitis attack that required surgery the following day, it unintentionally made Hillis' illness seem trite. Hillis then hurt his hamstring on Oct. 16 against Oakland and missed the following game.
Last week, Hillis went to Arkansas to get married and missed a rehab session for his injured hamstring. He returned and practiced the next day, but aggravated his injury and sat out last week's game in San Francisco. Still, he managed to anger his teammates by standing on the field at Candlestick Park during pregame warmups and rifling footballs at the crossbar in a competition with third-string quarterback Thad Lewis.
On Monday, Hillis missed a scheduled appearance at a Halloween party for kids, blaming a "miscommunication" with his management team for the absence, apologizing and pledging to make it up to the children.
Earlier this week, Hillis said he believed there were no issues between him and his teammates.
"I think everything's great," he said Wednesday, when asked if things were "cool" with Cleveland's other players. "Guys in the locker room, they understand a lot of situations, and other situations that they probably don't understand, you talk about it with them, then you understand."
That day, members of the Browns' "leadership group" confronted Hillis to talk to him about his erratic behavior. The meeting was first reported by Yahoo! Sports and confirmed for the AP by several Browns.
A player who attended the meeting described it to the AP as a "very positive conversation."
The player said the message to Hillis was: "If you're hurt, then work to get healthy. Don't have pregame quarterback competitions, missed treatments etc."
Hillis seemed on track to get back on the field this week. He reported no problems after practicing Thursday, but on a run up the middle early in Friday's workout, Hillis came up limping and grabbed his hamstring. He spiked the ball in frustration and flung his helmet to the ground, all in view of media members .
As he was escorted by a trainer back to the facility, Hillis passed Browns president Mike Holmgren, who at that point was unaware Hillis was hurt again.
Last month, Holmgren said talks with Hillis on an extension had become "kind of quiet," but that didn't mean the team wouldn't be open to trying to re-sign him in free agency. Holmgren said the sides had agreed to "let Peyton play, let the dust settle and see what happens."
Well, Hillis isn't playing, the dust remains airborne and what's happened hasn't been good for Hillis or the Browns.