Holmgren on Browns-Hillis contract talks: 'Let the dust settle'

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren has tired of the drama surrounding running back Peyton Hillis and his contract.

He did his best to end it Thursday, in his first meeting with the local media since training camp.

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Holmgren said negotiations between the Browns and Hillis are "quiet now," but the team remains open to signing the running back, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season, to a long-term contract extension. Unable to reach agreement on a new deal, Holmgren said agent Kennard McGuire and the team have decided to let the season play out.

"No one has called off negotiations," Holmgren said. "No one has said, 'OK, let's wait until the end.' It's still kind of in that floating area where you're waiting for a phone call or you're going to make a phone call. I don't think anybody pushed anybody against the wall on contract talks and said, 'We're done.' It's kind of quiet."

Holmgren said the sides have agreed to "let Peyton play, let the dust settle and see what happens."

Hillis has been at the center of controversy for weeks. In addition to his unresolved contract matter, the 25-year-old sat out the Browns' Sept. 25 game against the Miami Dolphins with strep throat, a decision he said he made on advice from McGuire. In the aftermath, there were reports, citing unnamed sources, that claimed some of Hillis' teammates believed his contract was a factor in him not playing.

Hillis, whose role in the offense has diminished this season, was forced to defend himself, and first-year coach Pat Shurmur endured an awkward news conference in which he said it "was his understanding" that Hillis was sick. The issue seemed over, but it resurfaced after Hillis was injured in last week's loss at Oakland and stood on the sideline. The Browns initially said Hillis was being kept out of the game by Shurmur before announcing the running back actually had injured his hamstring.

The delay in getting an injury update to the press box and TV commentators led to suspicions of a cover-up, which Holmgren strongly denied.

"Peyton was sick in that first game, OK?" Holmgren said. "He couldn't play. He was sick. Most recently, he had the hamstring (injury), and I found out that everyone was concerned during the game on Sunday, 'What's happening? He's not in there.' It's not this major conspiracy deal going on. It's just he had an injury. He tried to go again. He couldn't go. It's something that happens every Sunday with any number of teams all the time. But because of the previous stuff that happened with Peyton, it became more noteworthy or newsworthy, but that's where it sits."

Holmgren also scoffed at reports the Browns were interested in trading Hillis before Tuesday's deadline.

"There's no way I'm trading Peyton Hillis," Holmgren said. "Why would I do that? Why would I trade one of our best players?"

Hillis wasn't available in the locker room following Holmgren's news conference. He hasn't practiced the past two days, and it's not known if he'll play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks (2-3).

Hillis is in the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him $600,000 this season. Hillis can be a free agent in March, and Holmgren said the Browns will pursue the running back even if he tests the open market.

"Are we going to be a player in there (free agency) to try and keep him here?" Holmgren said. "Absolutely. I told him that yesterday."

As for quarterback Colt McCoy's future in Cleveland, Holmgren was, as expected, noncommittal. The second-year pro has struggled this season while running Cleveland's new West Coast offense. Holmgren, who coached Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, has been impressed with McCoy's development and knows he has a lot to improve upon.

McCoy will start for the Browns this season. Nothing is set after that.

"I say, wait, let's see how he plays," Holmgren said. "Are we committed to Colt? Absolutely. Will we be committed after the season's over? I will always be committed to the players on this team. Does it guarantee him the starting quarterback's position for the next how many years? Well, we'll see. He's doing everything we're asking him to do. I want him to do well, everyone's rooting for him because it's important and I know he's trying real hard."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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