The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may finally have found the answer to their backup-running back problem.
According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the Bucs and free-agent back Peyton Hillis agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday afternoon:
The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed at this time. Hillis worked out with the Buccaneers earlier Tuesday, as he hoped to land a contract before the beginning of training camp. Tampa will open its preseason practice sessions to the public Thursday afternoon, where Hillis would ostensibly make his public debut with the club.
A seventh-round pick in 2008, Hillis spent his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos as a hybrid back, working both traditional backfield roles. He was then sent to the Cleveland Browns along with draft picks in exchange for Brady Quinn prior to the 2010 season, a move that sparked a breakout campaign.
Given his first chance as an NFL starting running back, Hillis shined. The former Arkansas standout rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, becoming one of the most popular players in recent Browns history. Hillis used that national popularity as a catapult to win the fan voting contest for EA Sports' Madden NFL 12 video game, defeating Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
Expected to be a face-of-the-franchise back in Cleveland, Hillis' career arc quickly spiraled after that triumph. He became embroiled in a tense contract-negotiations standoff with the Browns, one that former teammate Joe Thomas called a "terrible distraction" in an interview revisiting the controversy the following season.
As the situation continued to fester into the regular season, Hillis' play took a noticeable downturn. The bruising back suffered through battles with strep throat and a hamstring injury, rushing for 587 yards and three touchdowns while only appearing in 10 games.
Frustrated with his situation in Cleveland, Hillis signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring of 2012 in hopes of creating a platoon with Jamaal Charles. While Hillis played in 13 of 16 contests, Charles' excellent play and his own ineffectiveness rendered him an afterthought in the offense. Hillis rushed for only 309 yards and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. His long carry on the season was a mere 18 yards.
There will be no such platoon expectations in Tampa Bay. Hillis joins a backfield with star Doug Martin, who had a breakout 2012 season. The 2012 first-round pick rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 49 receptions for 472 yards.
Martin will again take the featured role this coming season, but the Bucs were in desperate need of depth behind him. They traded LeGarrette Blount to the New England Patriots this offseason, leaving them with only offseason signee Brian Leonard behind Martin in terms of experienced ball-carriers.
Hillis will likely compete with Leonard for the No. 2 spot. The 29-year-old Leonard spent the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, mostly providing help at fullback and versatility in the backfield.
Neither the Bucs nor Hillis have commented on his signing.
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