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Joe Thomas: Peyton Hillis turned 'toxic' in Cleveland

Few players in the Cleveland Browns' locker room command more respect than Joe Thomas.

The Pro Bowl left tackle has soldiered through a string of losing seasons without complaint. He isn't a guy to grab the spotlight, but Thomas had plenty to say Wednesday about Peyton Hillis, the former Browns running back who wound up signing with the Kansas City Chiefs in March following a disastrous season in Cleveland.

"I think it was better for both sides (he left)," Thomas told The Plain Dealer. "At that point, the situation with him here was toxic, and he didn't want to be here and players didn't want him here. It was better for a fresh start at that point."

Thomas claims Hillis -- the reigning "Madden" cover boy at the time -- damaged the locker room last year with bizarre behavior and a noted lack of effort while struggling to negotiate a new contract with the team.

"It was just the fact, he decided his contract was more important than coming out and playing and helping his team win, and it left us without a running back," Thomas said, "... and it ended up hurting the other 52 guys in the locker room. That was his decision.

"He wasn't real popular around here the way he went about his business. Not that they didn't like him as a person, but just the way he hurt the team from not coming to play."

Hillis -- whose Chiefs face Cleveland on Sunday -- represented everything the Browns needed back in 2010: A hard-working, salt-of-the-earth behemoth who inflicted punishment on defenses and preached eternal devotion to the city.

Last season's meltdown brought the opposite, and Thomas is correct: It's better Hillis and Cleveland no longer are an item.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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