The Bengals declined to match Cleveland’s offer sheet, and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins will become a member of the Browns.
The deadline for the Bengals to match was midnight Tuesday, but the Bengals announced this afternoon that they won’t.
Hawkins signed a four-year deal with the Browns on Thursday. Because he was a restricted free agent, Cincinnati had five days to match.
Hawkins’ deal with the Browns can reach $13.6 million, including a $3.8 million signing bonus.
The Bengals initially were expected to match the contract, but the details of how it was structured changed their thinking. Cincinnati placed the low tender on Hawkins, so they will not receiver a draft pick from the Browns.
“I don’t want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard working and contributing player,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. “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.”
Hawkins tweeted his appreciation for the Bengals and his excitement in joining the Browns.
“Cant thank the Cincinnati Bengals Organization & fans enough for giving me my first fair shot at the best job in all the land…” he tweeted. “Forever greatful is an understatement. 1st class is another…
“That being said, excited to join the Browns (where it all started) & giving all I got to help bring championship football back to Cleveland!”
Hawkins, 28, fills an obviously need for the Browns while weakening a division rival. The Browns were desperate to find a playmaker out of the slot after Davone Bess’ disastrous 2013. He was released earlier this month after failing to fulfill expectations on the field in addition to off-the-field troubles, including an arrest after an incident at a South Florida airport.
Hawkins (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) 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. He brings elite speed and quickness and is dangers running after the catch.
He attended minicamp with the Browns out of Toledo but wasn’t signed.