Now begins the restoration of reputation for Peyton Hillis.
The running back, dogged in Cleveland last year by reports that he might want to retire and even try a new career, will get a fresh start in Kansas City. Perhaps best of all, he's back with Brian Daboll, who ran the offense in Cleveland when Hillis enjoyed the finest season of his four-year NFL career.
"If I have to come here and build up my reputation again in a lot of peoples' eyes, I can do that because I know what kind of a player I am and I'm very excited about the opportunity," the versatile 250-pounder said Thursday.
The Chiefs, determined to upgrade the second-lowest scoring offense in the NFL, formally announced they had signed Hillis to a one-year contract, for a reported $3 million. He'll be counted on to provide a big-back partner for speedy Jamaal Charles, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 but missed almost all last season with a knee injury.
"I've never been healthier and never been more excited about playing football," Hillis said in a conference call.
Hillis has rushed for 2,161 yards and 20 touchdowns in four seasons, and has caught 101 passes for 805 yards and three scores. While Charles was rushing for 1,467 yards and leading the NFL with 6.38 yards per carry in 2010, Hillis, under the tutelage of Daboll, was rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs.
Daboll left to become Miami's offensive coordinator in 2011 and Hillis' fortunes sank, along with much of his health and dignity. Slowed by injuries, he appeared in only 10 games while rushing for 587 yards. A bad year was made even worse by reports he had threatened to retire and was mulling over a career as a U.S. spy.
Just how true those reports were, Hillis isn't saying.
"Well, you can't please everybody," he said. "What was said in the past, nobody will ever know. It's pretty much one person's word against the other. But I have no fallbacks there. I really enjoyed my time in Cleveland. The CIA talks and retirement talks were just horrendous."
Hillis, a seventh-round draft pick from Arkansas in 2008 who has played both running back and fullback, could even start at running back if Charles' knee surgery has not sufficiently healed at the beginning of the year. That could be up to Daboll, who became KC's offensive coordinator in February.
"Coach Daboll and I have a really great relationship," Hillis said. "I know the playbook and I know what he represents and it seemed like a perfect fit."
It was Daboll's confidence in him that brought out his best, Hillis said.
"I think it was just the point he believed in me and believed what I could do. And what he does, works," he said. "I think he's proved out wherever he's been. I'm very excited about this and very excited about being a Chief."
Apparently rebuffed in their admitted desire to pursue free agent quarterback Peyton Manning, the Chiefs needed to move quickly to start improvements on their offense.
"We are happy that Peyton decided to join us," head coach Romeo Crennel said. "Peyton is a big, strong, physical back with a lot of talent and he should fit into our system well. We are looking forward to working with him and adding him into our offense."
Hillis reportedly had trouble with teammates last season. He sat out Cleveland's game on Sept. 25 against Miami with a bout of strep throat and missed a treatment for his ailing hamstring when he left during a work week to get married.
Making his year even more topsy-turvy, he changed agents more than once and even said at one point that the entire year had made him "believe in curses."
Now, he says, he feels no need to rebuild his reputation.
"Not at all. I think how I played in the past and where I've been, it can speak for itself and I feel like everywhere I've been I've produced and I've done well with the opportunities I've got and it will be the same here," he said. "And I know that. I play for me, myself and my family, and for the Chiefs. I'm very excited for the opportunity and hope everything works out.
"I think that a lot of people wanted to show that I could prove myself again and if that's the case, I'm more than happy doing it. I saw this as an opportunity to be reunited with coach Daboll and with (general manager) Scott Pioli and coach Crennel because they're great people."