It’s critical to understand the strategy that is at play here. Some have speculated that the second year of the offer will pay the highest to Hawkins and thus become the most cap-impacting; very significant for a Bengals team with a massive 2015 free agency class. However, after the 2015 season, Hawkins’ salary and its impact to the salary cap would fall back to current levels, which is to say nothing. Essentially, Hawkins would plays for peanuts in years three and four of his contract.
The Browns are forcing the Bengals into a four-day frenzy to see if they can extend marquee players through next year’s free agency period when Hawkins’ contract would have minimal effect. Only AJ Green, Vontaze Burfict, or Andy Dalton could be minimally extended based on existing contracts. This is a brilliant move by Cleveland to force a Bengals patient front office into rushed decision aimed at keeping Cincinnati’s merger personnel office further distracted as free agency rages around them.
But this Battle of Ohio is far from over; four days to be exact. In this wild year of free agency, four days could prove critical for both parties. Peter King called March 12th “The Billion Dollar Day,” acknowledging it was the most lucrative day in the 22-year history of free agency with 64 player signings for an estimated $1,001,500,000.
Therefore, Hawkins might not be headed north quite yet. OC Hue Jackson wants to feature aggressive balance in Cincinnati’s offense, but a dynamo like Giovanni Bernard needs to be complimented otherwise the system retains a single point of failure. While the Bengals might just wait until Julian Edelman comes off the market before matching, just to spite the Brown, it’s more likely that if a big name gets extended, Hawkins will stay at home. Or this decision may already be made one way or the other.
Both sides are guaranteed to keep their cards tight to the chest for the weekend. Right now, the only clear winner is Andrew Hawkins.