Trading running back Peyton Hillis was, in hindsight, a mistake. We know that now.
No matter how you look at it, the Broncos could use Peyton Hillis. The Browns’ running back has more rushing yards (644) and rushing touchdowns (7) than the entire Broncos team has (538 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns) to this point in the season. His blue-collar, tougher-than-nails style is something the Broncos lack.
We also know now that the Broncos did not receive fair value in return. Shipping Hillis, a 2011 sixth-round draft pick and a 2012 conditional pick, to the Browns for quarterback Brady Quinn has turned out to be a bad trade. There are no two ways about it.
Yet, the after-the-fact criticism of Coach McDaniels for making the trade is at least a little disingenuous. It is always easy to come to a conclusion once we have time to see the outcome of a decision. There are, however, several key points that critics usually gloss over in their zeal to throw the spear at Coach McDaniels for trading Peyton Hillis.
1 – TYPICALLY A TEAM HAS TO OVERPAY FOR A QUARTERBACK. This is especially true with a young quarterback who was a former first round pick. That’s life in the NFL. Quaraterbacks are often a premium commodity, even if they are unproven. At the time of the trade, Brady Quinn had shown some flashes of good play with the Browns. Certainly he showed enough to merit Cleveland asking for a guy perceived to be a third-down running back and a couple of late round draft picks.
Given Hillis’ limited accomplishments and the fact he had yet to prove himself to be a legitimate first-string running back at the time of the trade, one could argue that the Broncos didn’t overpay to get Quinn. Even still, the prevailing opinion about Quinn was that at the very least he was an upgrade to the Broncos talent and depth at the quarterback position.
2 – AT LEAST THREE NFL HEAD COACHES FAILED TO RECOGNIZE HILLIS’ TALENT. Those three are Mike Shanahan, Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini. In 2008, Hillis’ rookie season, he only got the opportunity to start when a litany of Broncos’ running backs went down with injuries. In other words, he got an opportunity to play extensively because a lot of other guys got hurt. And we’re not talking about star players. We’re talking about guys like Selvin Young, Michael Pittman, Tatum Bell and Ryan Torain all getting the opportunity to start before Hillis. Even Andre Hall, while not starting a game that year, was ahead of Hillis on the depth chart before Hall got hurt.
The bottom line is that Hillis was a last resort for Mike Shanahan. He had to give Hillis a chance to be the number one running back.
In addition, at the beginning of training camp this summer, Hillis was behind Jerome Harrison and Montario Hardesty on the Browns’ depth chart. It is pretty clear that Browns’ head coach Eric Mangini didn’t see Hillis as the top running back.
And, to further show what NFL coaches thought of Peyton Hillis, the Broncos selected him as the 20th player taken in the SEVENTH round of the NFL draft. Don’t tell me there was a concensus that this guy was going to be a great NFL running back. Please. Let’s be intellectually honest.
I give Hillis credit. He has shown that every NFL coach has had the wrong perception of him. He has proven people wrong. He is definitely capable of being the top running back on an NFL team and I am thrilled for him for his success this season.
3 – AS TALENTED AS HILLIS IS, I DON’T BELIEVE HE WOULD BE HAVING THE SAME SUCCESS THIS YEAR IF HE WERE WITH THE BRONCOS. Again, let’s be honest. The Broncos’ offensive line has been a mess. It is a group that has simply not played well. Maybe it’s because of injuries. Maybe it’s because of youth. Maybe it’s because of talent. Maybe it’s because of all those factors and more.
Football is one of the ultimate team games. If guys don’t do their jobs well, other guys have trouble doing their jobs well. Right now, the Browns’ offensive line is light years better than that of the Broncos. Hillis, while talented in his own right, benefits from running behind a really good line in Cleveland.
Could the Broncos use Peyton Hillis? Without a doubt. Would Hillis have the similar numbers if he were playing for the Broncos this year? I am highly doubtful of that. Buying into that logic lets the Broncos’ offensive line off the hook. Given what I’ve seen from the Broncos offensive front this year, I don’t believe Hillis is THAT good.
4 – WE DON’T REALLY KNOW WHY THE BRONCOS TRADED HILLIS. Josh McDaniels has never come out and talked in-depth about the topic. We know Coach felt he could upgrade the depth at quarterback, which we all know was something had to be done after last season.
But we don’t know if there were any behind-the-scenes issues going on. I’m not implying there were or were not. I have no idea. I’m just saying that we don’t know. It could have strictly been a football move. Or, there is the possibility that other factors could have influenced the decision.
Let me say it one more time just so the Coach McDaniels bashers know where I stand: It has turned out to be a bad trade. It has not worked out well for the Broncos at all. Would I have liked to see Coach McDaniels have given Hillis more of an opportunity to show what he could do? Yes, I would have liked that.
But it is time to get over it. NFL coaches make mistakes. Josh McDaniels made one in this instance.
It’s time to let it go and move on. Unfortunately, the Broncos have bigger issues to address as the second half of the season begins.
The second half of the season begins Sunday against the Chiefs. Feel free to post your thoughts about what you believe is in store for the Broncos.
Thanks for reading,