BEREA — Less than 24 hours after being called “toxic” by Browns tackle Joe Thomas, Chiefs running back Peyton Hillis fired back at his former teammate on Thursday.
Hillis told Kansas City reporters that five-time Pro Bowl selection Thomas was “kind of like a crazy ex-girlfriend, you know? It’s been over a year. Get over it.”
Both players were referring to Hillis’ controversial 2011 season with Cleveland, which saw him go from fan favorite and “Madden NFL 12” coverboy to locker room cancer and persona non grata.
When the Browns didn’t offer Hillis a new contract, he became a free agent and signed a one-year, $2.8 million deal with the Chiefs on March 15.
Kansas City plays in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, meaning there could be plenty of bad blood spilled at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“I’m not talking bad about anybody,” Hillis said. “I’m just trying to go on with my life, like anybody else, and just play. You know, try to make a living.
“I really enjoyed the Cleveland fans and the whole atmosphere there. I really liked it, and it’ll be good to go back this week.”
While Hillis has been a huge disappointment for the Chiefs — gaining just 193 yards on 59 carries — he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his one-time left tackle, who signed a $92 million, eight-year contract extension in August 2011.
“I guess when you get paid over $100 million by one team, it’s kind of easy to point the finger at another guy and hate on him for trying to get another contract,” said Hillis, a seventh-round pick by Denver in the 2008 NFL Draft.
“I don’t have any bitterness or resentment or regrets. I did what I did. There are always regrets in every process or things you wish you did better, but now is now and I have to do what’s best for me.”
While Thomas declined to directly address Hillis’ comments, another member of the 2011 Browns did.
Right tackle Tony Pashos told his Twitter followers, “I don’t see what Joe’s $100 million has to do with (Peyton) being on (his) phone in meetings and during practice.”
Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and caught 61 passes in his first season with the Browns in 2010, totaling a team-high 1,654 all-purpose yards. Those figures dropped to 587, 22 and 717, respectively, last year, when he only appeared in 10 games because of strep throat and a hamstring injury.
Though the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder sat out three games with an ankle injury earlier this season, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said he has “had no problems with him. He’s been good ever since he’s been here.”
Thomas, who has not missed a snap in his six-year NFL career, said he was surprised that his words started a firestorm. Cleveland’s offensive captain accused Hillis of being “disrespectful more than anything to his teammates,” and said, “All he cared about was trying to get his new contract.”
In an appearance on WKNR-AM 850, Thomas said, “In every interview I do, I try to be honest. Really, that’s all it was. The only reason it came out yesterday was it was the first time anybody really asked me about it.”
Thomas added that he didn’t “wish any ill will” toward Hillis and wouldn’t hesitate to talk to him, either before or after the game. He even laughed when told about the crazy ex-girlfriend reference, but declined to back down from anything he said.
“Around the locker room and in the facility, that’s pretty much the way it was,” Thomas said. “I thought it was public knowledge the way things were happening and what was being reported. I guess I didn’t realize that some people didn’t have the same perception of what was going on in the building.”
For the second time in three years, Thomas was named the Browns’ winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He will be honored at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3, along with the recipients from the other 31 NFL teams.
“To receive an award with Walter Payton’s name on it means a lot to me because he was one of the great players and great people ever to play this game,” Thomas said. “Winning it the first time was unbelievable, but to have this happen a second time, honestly, it’s a little bit surreal.”
The award recognizes a player’s service to his community, along with his playing excellence. It also includes a $1,000 donation to a charity that Thomas supports. He chose Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit started by one of his college teammates at Wisconsin who served in the United States Marines.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who has only taken six snaps this season, told the (University of Texas) Daily Texan that he is not happy with his role as Brandon Weeden’s backup.
“It’s a hard deal, especially when you feel like you should be playing,” the third-year pro said. “You’ve just got to stay positive. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.”
The former Longhorns star added that he understands why Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert have stuck with their rookie signalcaller. McCoy was drafted by ex-Browns president Mike Holmgren and former coach Eric Mangini.
“I got drafted by a different coaching staff, and they’re going to bring new guys in,” McCoy said. “You don’t want to make any excuses or anything, but you just have to live to fight each day.”
Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (shoulder, chest) and tackle Ryan Miller (forearm) were limited in practice, but safeties Usama Young (concussion) and Ray “Bubba” Ventrone (calf) returned to all team activities.
• For the Chiefs, safeties Abram Elam (quadriceps) and Eric Berry (hand), cornerback Brandon Flowers (hamstring), linebacker Derrick Johnson (hamstring) and center Ryan Lilja (knee) did not practice.
Tackle Branden Albert (back), linebacker Tamba Hall (knee) and safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) were limited.
Browns guard John Greco says he doesn’t mind being nicknamed “Meatball” by offensive coordinator Brad Childress, joking that it’s appropriate, given his Italian background and culinary skills.
“I’m actually a pretty good cook,” the Youngstown native added. “Absolutely, I make a good meatball. Maybe I’ll bring some in to prove it to Brad.”
• Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker will call the Cleveland/Kansas City game for CBS, which is the network’s sixth-ranked (and lowest-priority) matchup in Week 14.
•Highland’s Tom Lombardo, Columbia’s Jason Ward, Wellington’s Matt Stoll and Midpark’s Dave McFarland are among the 10 finalists for the Cleveland Browns High School Coach of the Year, which will be announced Sunday.
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.