CLEVELAND: If Peyton Hillis ever flirted with the idea of ending his professional football career to pursue a job as a secret agent, he never confided in Browns coach Pat Shurmur about it.
Citing unnamed team sources, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Hillis told Browns coaches he was contemplating retirement as recently as the end of last season and even considered joining the CIA. It now looks as if Hillis, who recently parted ways with his third agent in the past year, will continue to play football, according to Schefter’s report.
“Peyton and I spoke frequently throughout the year and we never discussed any of those topics for sure,” Shurmur said Thursday night during the Cleveland Auto Show at the I-X Center. “Beyond that, I really can’t comment. It’s somebody saying something. But as far as he and I, we never discussed his retirement.”
Schefter also reported the Browns won’t use a franchise tag on Hillis, who’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. March 13. Shurmur said the team has not made a decision on whether it will use the tag by the deadline on Monday.
“We’ve still got a couple days before we’ve gotta make that call,” Shurmur said. “We’ve had discussions about what we’re going to do, but we haven’t finally decided.”
Last year, the Browns prevented kicker Phil Dawson from hitting the open market by franchising him. Like Hillis, Dawson is to become an unrestricted free agent in less than two weeks.
Earlier this week, Browns General Manager Tom Heckert told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that the Browns would try to work out a deal to retain Hillis, but money would be a deciding factor.
“When he was in there, he played good football for us,” Shurmur said of Hillis. “Now the business of sport takes over here, and we’ll have to see what happens.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Browns are among the teams that have had preliminary discussions with the St. Louis Rams about trading up for the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is the presumed target for teams trying to strike such a deal.
“I don’t want to confirm or deny that,” Shurmur said. “I think all teams talk at this point.”
The Browns have nine draft picks, including two in the first round (Nos. 4 and 22). The price for the No. 2 pick is expected to be steep, but the Browns have plenty of trade ammunition at their disposal if they would want to make a move.
“We have a situation, in my opinion, where we have some flexibility,” Shurmur said. “We have a lot of picks, and a lot of the experts think that they might be valuable, so we’ll see. So we have some flexibility, and I think we need to approach this thing from a position of strength and do what we can to make our roster better. So that’s how we’ll approach it.”
Shurmur and several other members of the organization recently learned more about draft prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Shurmur revealed some of his thoughts about the 15- minute interviews the Browns had with the following prospects:
• Griffin: “I thought the meeting went well. A very sharp, very well-spoken young man. Everybody knows how accomplished he was on the field.”
• Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “I was equally impressed with Ryan. Very intelligent young man. Did a nice job in the interview. It’s important in the interview that they’re able to talk about what they did when we watch their film, and I thought he did a very nice job of that.”
• Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne: “He’s obviously very accomplished. He’s a terrific player and again he was another interview that was outstanding. It will be interesting.”
Shurmur also said Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon’s size doesn’t diminish his value as a prospect. Blackmon measured in at 6 feet, 7/8 inch and weighed 207 pounds.
“He’s obviously big enough to play receiver in this league,” Shurmur said. “He’s an outstanding player. I think all you have to do is watch the tape. Those that don’t have the tape, just watch the highlights, and you can see that he’s got the skill and ability to be an outstanding player.”
Feeling fine again
Browns strong safety T.J. Ward said his right foot has healed well. He did not need surgery.
“I’m healthy, 100 percent, and just looking forward to the offseason conditioning, getting back with the team and after that, the season,” he said. “Anytime you can avoid surgery, it’s definitely a blessing. I’ve had enough surgeries in my career.”
Ward suffered a midfoot sprain Nov. 6 against the Houston Texans and missed the final eight games of the season. He practiced on Dec. 14 in an effort to come back, but his foot did not respond well. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 22.
“I thought it was feeling good, and it’s a whole other thing when you’re rehabbing and you’re running on it and you know certain things are hurting,” Ward said. “But when you get out on the field and you’re reacting to things that you wouldn’t normally do, it makes you really test it and see if it’s ready. It wasn’t.”
Heckert, who’s recovering from recent heart surgery, has worked at the Browns’ headquarters this week. He met with Shurmur for about an hour Thursday. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s business as usual,” Shurmur said. “He looks good. He feels healthy. He just went through one of those things that some of us have to go through, and he’ll be great.” … The Browns will attend the pro days of Griffin (March 21), Tannehill (March 29) and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (March 22), Shurmur said.