Was Letting Andrew Hawkins Go A Mistake?
Sep 21, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (16) runs after a catch during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens won 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
This past off-season, the Bengals had three restricted free agents and they allowed one to leave: Andrew Hawkins. Many argued for Hawkins’ retention, along with Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins, but the reality is the Bengals possess so many talented players that keeping them all is impossible. In light of that, the Bengals chose to let Andrew Hawkins leave after signing an offer sheet with the Cleveland Browns. We’re three games into the season, so having had a chance to see the current season without Hawkins’ presence, did the Bengals make a mistake?
Andrew Hawkins has undeniably played well thus far this year. Profootball Focus has him ranked as their 3rd best receiver while he has been targeted often by a similar quarterback–to Andy Dalton–in Brian Hoyer.
Thus far, Hawkins has produced 21 catches (8th in the league) for 244 yards (14th) and 14 first downs (T-6th). This means he’s on pace for career highs in all categories: 112 catches, 1,301 yards and 75 first downs; though he’s yet to score a touchdown, his career high is only four. He’s been a great possession receiver for the Browns who focus on possession and first downs rather than huge plays while Josh Gordon is sidelined.
Speaking of Josh Gordon, Hawkins stats may only get better once he returns. Gordon’s presence may decrease Hawkins’ targets slightly, but it’ll also stretch the field for a player who excels in space. He’s simply been excellent thus far this season.
But Hawkins’ production wasn’t in question while playing in Cincinnati. Andrew Hawkins was the victim of a deep and talented receivers group. It kept him from seeing the field as much as he deserved, which for the Bengals was only a good problem to have (possessing to much talent). But Hawkins is a unique talent who’s skill-set may become more valuable as time goes on. Just a couple of weeks ago, the NFL world saw how Keenan Allen’s quickness really hurt Richard Sherman. The league has been emphasizing the acquisition of taller and stronger corners who can deal with today’s bigger receivers. Allen’s performance showed that quickness is the way to beat these types of guys and who better defines this type of receiver than Hawkins. It’s something to think about as time goes on. Yet, the Bengals do possess a great receiving threat in Giovani Bernard who possesses this type of quickness. His may not match Hawkins’ quickness, but it’s pretty close.
Also to consider here is money. The Bengals, like all NFL teams, have only so much to work with, so retaining all of their talent is impossible. Yet, the Bengals could’ve retained Hawkins at his current contact (4 year/$13.6 million). I highlighted yesterday in another piece that the Bengals could’ve absorbed a contract of over $5 million next year, so structuring Hawkins’ current deal was far from impossible. But, there’s the “bang for your buck” consideration and if the Bengals can’t get him on the field beyond being a fourth wide receiver and special teams gunner, is he worth $3.6 million/year?
My biggest problem with the Bengals’ decision regarding Hawkins was their choice in tender. The Bengals clearly didn’t think the league would recognize Hawkins’ talent and chose, like Vincent Rey and Dane Sanzenbacher, to place an “original round” tender on Hawkins.
This meant the team’s tender was worth $1.431 million; they also had the option of a 2nd round tender of $2.187 million and a first round tender worth $3.113 million. This means if a team had signed Hawkins with a second or first round tender, they would’ve had to give the Bengals their second of first round pick respectively. Because Hawkins was an undrafted free agent, the Bengals “original round tender” meant only they were requiring another team to pay Hawkins more than $1.431 million in 2014. I highly doubt any team would’ve signed Hawkins to a first round tender offer considering he only got $3.6 million/year. But would the Browns have sacrificed a second-round pick? Should the Bengals have retained Hawkins for another year at just $2.187 million rather than give him away to a divisional rival? It seems the Bengals may have undervalued their own player, which is something they’ll need to do better with in the future as their roster will be loaded for several years; this coming year linebacker Emmanuel Lamur will be a RFA himself.
It seems the Bengals had little room for Hawkins again in 2014. With a 3-0 record to date, it’s hard to argue with any of their choices. But diversity in skill-sets is key to success and the Bengals currently lack this type of receiver (again, they do have Bernard as a running back). Letting go of Hawkins wasn’t the real issue here, but rather the way in which they let him go. They likely could’ve scored extra compensation at a low risk for themselves. They could’ve retained him for the year–they have the cap space currently–and let him go in 2015 as an UFA without compensation. The Bengals could’ve utilized his talents for the year while keeping him away from a divisional foe. The Bengals are 3-0, but having extra talent is never a drawback.