The Browns are in a holding pattern as they try to find a slot receiver, but it looks like they might get their man.
Bengals restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins signed his offer sheet with the Browns on Thursday after agreeing to terms Tuesday. The four-year deal can reach $13.1 million and includes a $3.8 million signing bonus, according to reports.
The Bengals were initially planning to match the offer as is their right with a restricted free agent. But the details of the contract have changed their thinking, according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer, and Hawkins is expected to join the Browns.
The Bengals have five days to make a decision and are likely to take the entire time before revealing their intentions. Because they used the low tender, they wouldn’t get draft-pick compensation if he leaves.
In the meantime, the Browns must wait. And it could cost them the chance to land their Plan B.
The Browns entered free agency in need of multiple wideouts, but are unlikely to sign two slot receivers. They are expected to draft a receiver in May, possibly Clemson’s Sammy Watkins at No. 4.
New England’s Julian Edelman and Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders would be options in the slot if the Bengals keep Hawkins, but they might not be on the market in five days. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer played with Edelman in New England and has reportedly been lobbying for him to come to Cleveland.
The Patriots would like to keep Edelman, and the Ravens and 49ers have been mentioned as interested parties. Sanders visited Jacksonville and Tampa Bay and is scheduled for Kansas City today, according to reports.
Edelman (105 catches, 1,056 yards, six touchdowns last year) and Sanders (67 catches, 740 yards, six touchdowns) have experience playing outside the slot and could fill the vacancy as the No. 2 receiver to Pro Bowler Josh Gordon, but the Browns would probably be inclined to wait until the draft.
Slot receiver became a priority when Davone Bess flopped in his only season with the Browns. He was supposed to provide leadership in the locker room and consistent playmaking on the field, but fell drastically short of expectations.
Bess dropped 14 passes in 14 games and caught only 42 passes for 362 yards (8.6 average) and two touchdowns before leaving the team for personal reasons with two games left. He then tweeted pictures that appeared to show him with marijuana, and later was arrested after a confrontation at a South Florida airport. He told the Plain Dealer he sought medical attention.
Hawkins is small (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) but brings a special quickness. Hawkins is dangerous running after the catch, turning short completions into long gains.
Hawkins, who turned 28 on Monday, missed the first half of last season with an ankle injury, catching 12 passes for 199 yards in eight games. His best year was 2012, when he made his only two career starts and caught 51 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns. In three years, he has 86 catches for 995 yards and four touchdowns.
Hawkins, who was undrafted out of the University of Toledo, can also return kicks.
The Browns can cross one name off their list of receivers, and he would’ve been a popular signing for the town and new strong safety Donte Whitner. Ted Ginn Jr. signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract with the Cardinals on Thursday.
Whitner, who signed with the Browns on Wednesday, said he suggested Ginn to Cleveland’s decision-makers, then took to Twitter on Thursday to further make his point.
“Let’s get @TedGinnJr — 19!!!” tweeted Whitner of his old Glenville and Ohio State teammate.
Ginn, who turns 29 next month, remains one of the fastest players in the league and can be used as a wideout and returner. Travis Benjamin, who’s coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, might be even faster than Ginn and fills those roles with the Browns.
Ginn made two starts for Carolina last year, catching 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns. He has 11 receiving touchdowns in seven years.