The Cincinnati Bengals decided against matching the Cleveland Browns’ offer to restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins, clearing the way for the wide receiver to move a few hours up the road to an AFC North and in-state rival.
The Bengals made an official announcement on Tuesday that they elected not to bring back Hawkins, who received a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet from the Browns. Hawkins will be paid $10.8 million in the first two years of the deal, according to NFL.com.
Cincinnati tendered Hawkins at the lowest level and because he entered the NFL undrafted, there is no compensation. Had they given him a $2.187 million tender, there would have been compensation of a second-round if the Browns had still given him an offer sheet.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, “I don’t want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard-working and contributing player. He has set a great example of being a great teammate. But we’re fortunate to have a lot of depth at wide receiver, and we’re excited to move forward. Our leading receivers from last year will all return, and we have another group who know our system and have earned our confidence that they are ready to see more action.
“It’s a given that we will invest in players to the limit of the salary cap, but the system means teams have to make choices, and we don’t believe this match, at this time, would serve our goal of allocating resources roster-wide for the best possible team come September.”
After missing the first eight games of 2013 while on injured reserve with an ankle problem, Hawkins finished the regular season with 12 catches for 199 yards and no touchdowns. In three seasons with the Bengals, the 28-year-old Hawkins had 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bengals’ decision to let Hawkins go was not a surprise considering they have wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert in the fold for next season.
The Bengals signed coach Marvin Lewis to a contract extension through the 2015 season, the team announced March 14.
“Marvin has earned this commitment for the job he is doing,” team president Mike Brown said in a statement. “We are one of only five teams to qualify for the playoffs the last three years, and our prospects are bright looking ahead. Marvin is driven to do more, and we are happy to secure his leadership of our team beyond the coming season.”
Cincinnati finished in the top 10 in the NFL in defense, rush defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and in the top 10 in pass offense.
“I love it here in Cincinnati, and with the Bengals organization,” Lewis said. “I truly appreciate the commitment by our management to continue to enable us to build an NFL championship team.”
The Bengals offered the lowest tenders to restricted free agents receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and Andrew Hawkins, along with LB Vinny Rey.
Hawkins caught 12 passes for 199 yards last year after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury. He signed an offer sheet from Cleveland worth $13.6 million over four years and the Bengals elected not to match.
Rey might have elicited some interest, but he signed a two-year contract.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther liked the way Maualuga played last year, but wouldn’t close the possibility a competition could occur at middle linebacker.
“Rey really understands the defense,” Guenther said. “Really, all the guys understand it but he went in there and made a couple of plays, got confidence and that confidence has sky rocketed. Sometimes the light just goes on for a guy and you get to see what he can do.”
A name mentioned in association with the Bengals during free agency has been running back Darren McFadden. His last two seasons in Oakland were sub par.
He averaged 3.3 yards per carry each of the last two seasons. Those came on the heels of his two best years as a pro. In 2010, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry rushing for 1,157 yards. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry despite an injury in 2011.
The common thread during those two seasons? His offensive coordinator and then head coach was new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
The possibilities that happens remain doubtful. The Bengals aren’t interested in spending much of anything in free agency and certainly not at a position where they already have Giovani Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a slew of young backs they like.
If his market value drops to a bargain basement, maybe Jackson convinces the organization to take a chance but that seems highly unlikely.