The Chiefs have made their second big move of the 2012 Offseason, signing former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis to a one year contract worth right around $3 million. This is a big pick up for the Chiefs who have let go of practically their whole offensive backfield in Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle, and Le’Ron McClain, retaining only Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster. There is still a rumor of the Chiefs bringing Battle back, but I don’t believe it is likely after signing Hillis, who is a stronger power back that Battle, Jones, and McClain combined. In Hillis’ breakout year in 2010, he scored 11 total touchdowns, 10 of those coming inside the 20 yard line, 8 of them inside the 10. The Chiefs as a team scored 5, yes that’s FIVE, total rushing touchdowns in 2011, one coming from Javier Arenas. Kansas City was good at getting into the red zone, but the combination of Jones, Battle, and McClain could not find a way to get the ball in the endzone. Ryan Succop scored almost as many points off of redzone field goals than Chiefs running backs converted. That being said, the offensive line contributed to that problem, but I’ll get to that topic in a minute.
As an Arkansas Razorbacks fan, I have followed Hillis’ career since his college football days. Hillis was a prominent member of the Arkansas offense, bringing both the ability to pound the ball on the ground but also to catch passes out of the backfield. He was a member of the big 3 running backs to come from Arkansas, and along with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, they put together one hell of a backfield. Through his three main years of production between 2004-2007 (an injury sidelined him in 2006), he scored 22 touchdowns, 11 rushing and 11 receiving.
Hillis will reunite with Brian Daboll, Kansas City’s new offensive coordinator, who was Hillis’ OC in Cleveland in his breakout year of 2010.
I’ve been reading on blogs how the baggage Hillis brings could become a cancer in the locker room. If that is the case, why would the Chiefs have signed Hillis on his first visit to any team of the offseason if he wasn’t excited for a fresh start and if they didn’t think this organization could give him one? Hillis was not happy with the system in Cleveland. He is not a running back built to carry the load of a team on his shoulders like the Browns were trying to use him to do in 2011. He has never been a flashy showoff back. He does his job and does it well, and a running back tandem of Charles and Hillis will be the perfect fit because he brings the power and strength to accompany Charles’ quickness and finesse.
The Chiefs are also going to bring in former San Diego Charger Mike Tolbert for an interview, although Hillis was signed before Tolbert’s scheduled visit. Kansas City is also bringing in former Houston right tackle Eric Winston, who is regarded as one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Former Oakland Raider tight end Kevin Boss will also make a visit to Kansas City, who, if signed, will replace Leonard Pope as the counterpart to Tony Moeaki who will be back from an ACL injury in 2012. If the Chiefs were wise, they would show interest in former Texans center Chris Myers or former Packers center Scott Wells to replace Casey Weigmann. Rodney Hudson might be decent in a couple years, but the Chiefs need experienced blocking now.
Kansas City has already made a bigger splash in free agency than they did last year, signing Hillis and Stanford Routt, and I believe this could a be a “make it or break it” offseason for Pioli. If he is successful this offseason and the Chiefs make it back to the playoffs under new coach Romeo Crennel, it will bring new life to the Kansas City organization and fan base which was let down in 2011.