CLEVELAND - Fearing Peyton Hillis was weakened from strep throat and could risk injury, his agent advised the Browns' bruising back not to play on Sept. 25 against Miami.
Hillis left Browns Stadium about two hours before kickoff, a decision that has led to speculation he was upset over ongoing negotiations with the club on a contract extension.
However, agent Kennard McGuire told The Associated Press that Hillis was too sick to play, and that he could have jeopardized his career if he played at less than 100 per cent.
"I would give him the same advice to him or any of my clients as if he were my son," McGuire said in a phone interview. "The game is physical enough, and the way Peyton plays the game, he needs all the elements of his physical game. Him being sick, and the level of his sickness, is the equivalent of being injured.
"Not only could he have hurt himself but he could have hurt his team. Nobody embodies Cleveland like Peyton Hillis. If anyone wants to point a finger, point it at me."
In the aftermath of Hillis' decision not to play, suspicions have been raised about the 25-year-old's motives and some have questioned if he sat out in protest.
On Sunday, citing unidentified sources, ESPN reported that some players in Cleveland's locker-room wondered if Hillis' contract situation was a factor in him deciding not to play.
McGuire, like coach Pat Shurmur, was disturbed that if there were teammates who felt that way, they should have had the "courage" to speak out publicly.
McGuire said Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season with Cleveland, has been affected by contract talks with the club.
"He's human, of course it's on his mind," said McGuire, adding he has been in "constant contact" with the Browns. "Would it affect him being a pro? No. Does he feel underappreciated? Yes. He's human. We all in life have a perceived value of our worth now, and he doesn't take for granted what he's earning now.
"But we do believe that he's deserving of something that mirrors his production of last year."
Hillis carried Cleveland's offence in 2010 under former coach Eric Mangini. Acquired in a trade from Denver for quarterback Brady Quinn, Hillis didn't take long to storm into the hearts of Browns fans with a bulldozing running style that matched this blue-collar football city's hard-working identity.
During the off-season, Hillis won a fan vote over Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick to grace the cover of the Madden 12 video game.
Last season, Hillis caught 61 passes and became the first player in team history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, make 50 catches and score 10 TDs in the same season.
He's in the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him US$600,000 and Hillis wants to be rewarded for his breakout season.
In the past month, the Browns have given contract extensions to several players they have identified as part of their future "core." Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, tight end Evan Moore, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and linebacker Chris Gocong have all received new deals.
Hillis would figure to be in line for an extension, but McGuire indicated the sides aren't near a deal.
"Both the Browns and I are in constant communication," he said. "The fact that the Browns are in contact sends a message that both sides want to procure an agreement. It's just that we are not aligned at this time as to what that value is. Details of these talks will always remain between me and the organization."
There are other factors that may be holding up an extension for Hillis.
Shurmur has installed a West Coast offence, which puts a premium on passing and could significantly reduce Hillis' carries. Also, second-year back Montario Hardesty is healthy after missing his rookie season with a knee injury, and the Browns are trying to figure how to best use him and Hillis in the same backfield.
The Browns may also be wary of giving Hillis a huge contract for fear his aggressive, pounding style will take its toll, lead to injury and shorten his career.
Hillis only had 10 carries in Sunday's 31-13 loss to Tennessee, fuelling belief the Browns might be punishing him for the contract issue — or not playing a week earlier.
Afterward, Hillis said he wanted the ball more, but didn't complain about the low number of touches.
"Take it up with the coach," Hillis said. "I'm just running the plays that he tells me to do. I'm just riding the tide and waiting my chances and opportunities and trying to get things done when I can."
On Monday, Shurmur, who is filling the dual role of offensive co-ordinator, insisted Hillis' attempts were not limited because the Browns were trying to "devalue" the back or for any other off-field reason.
"Absolutely not," Shurmur said. "It's a non-issue."
Shurmur said Hillis remains a major piece in Cleveland's offence as the Browns head into their bye week.
"He's a terrific player," he said. "He's a big part of what we do. And again, if I were here a year ago and I could have felt all this, I might have a different answer. The running back in any offence, especially ours, is a very important piece and he needs to touch the football."
Also this week, several of Hillis' teammates defended his decision to sit out a week earlier.
"You've got to be at your best to play this game," said linebacker Titus Brown. "This is the NFL. If Peyton was able to play, he would have played. He loves this team."