The Cleveland Browns were finally able to call wide receiver Andrew Hawkins one of their own on Tuesday, five days after offering him a four-year, $13.6 million contract to leave the rival Cincinnati Bengals.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Bengals have opted against matching the Browns' offer, which makes Hawkins the sixth free-agent signing the team has made in the past week.
With such an expensive, front-loaded contract, Hawkins will be expected to come in and start as the team's slot receiver, replacing Davone Bess, who was released by the team earlier in March.
In three years with the Bengals, Hawkins caught 86 of the 132 passes thrown his way for 995 yards and four touchdowns. His best season came in 2012, with 51 receptions on 80 targets for 553 yards and all four of his career touchdowns.
He missed half of the 2013 season with an ankle injury, catching only 12 passes for 199 yards and no scores. However, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that he led the Bengals' receiving corps with an average of 10.8 yards after the catch.
|Andrew Hawkins' Career Stats|
|via ESPN and Pro Football Focus (subscription required)|
While small—Hawkins is just 5'7" and 175 pounds—his elusiveness and speed make him a touchdown threat every time he gets the football and finds open space.
His size often makes defenders underestimate him. PFF reveals that this resulted in double-digit averages in both yards per reception and yards after the catch in the first quarter of the 2012 season. The numbers went down slightly after defenses caught on to how dangerous he can be, but he still brings a skill set to Cleveland that the team had been lacking.
The Hawkins signing is yet another offseason win for the Browns, who are trying to retool their roster again after another coaching and front office change.
Their other free-agent acquisitions thus far include linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Donte Whitner, cornerback Isaiah Trufant, tight end Jim Dray and running back Ben Tate.
|Outside Free Agents the Browns Have Signed|
|Andrew Hawkins||Wide Receiver||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Karlos Dansby||Linebacker||Arizona Cardinals|
|Donte Whitner||Safety||San Francisco 49ers|
|Isaiah Trufant||Cornerback||New York Jets|
|Jim Dray||Tight End||Arizona Cardinals|
|Ben Tate||Running Back||Houston Texans|
These signings offer a glimpse of what the franchise has planned in 2014.
Though many veterans who remain—like left tackle Joe Thomas, cornerback Joe Haden and wide receiver Josh Gordon—are cornerstones of the Browns on both offense and defense, these new additions will all play major roles in the latest incarnation of the team.
They also represent a nod toward changing the culture of the Browns' locker room. Not only did the Browns make free-agency signings that will give the team an on-field boost, they also found players who truly desired to be in Cleveland and help the team out of its funk of six straight seasons with a losing record.
In his introductory press conference last week, Dansby said, "I really believe there's something special going on here."
Whitner, a Cleveland native, spoke of the need to bring leadership and a winning mentality to the locker room:
Whenever you come from a winning organization and you come to a team that hasn't really had that winning success as of late, you really have to change the culture, you have to change the mindset and you have to change the feel within the locker room. I believe with us three, along with some other guys who have already been here—you have Joe Haden and you have a bunch of different guys who have played football here and are top-notch guys in the National Football League—we can get this thing turned around.
Hawkins was immediately willing to sign the Browns' offer, which is a statement itself. Though money and playing time were surely factors, he also had to weigh the decision against the opportunity to remain with the Bengals, who were the AFC North's divisional champion in 2013.
While it may have been an easy decision for the Bengals not to match such a large contract, the fact that the Browns were able to snag a player from a divisional rival and pay no draft compensation in return is its own little coup.
The Browns are by no means done enhancing their roster. There are other free agents likely in the pipeline and, of course, there's the draft also rapidly approaching.
Things are starting to come together, though.
Speed and power seem to be the order of the day. Potential signings must be more interested in playing—and winning—in Cleveland than being paid in Cleveland. They must not just fit the system, but buy into and believe in it as well.
Turning the Browns into a winning franchise is more than just making a few veteran additions to the roster. It requires those veteran additions—and the entire roster—to be committed in the face of another reworking, something this team is all too familiar with.
The Browns have been appropriately aggressive in free agency thus far, including Tuesday's completed transaction with Hawkins. With a new front office and coaching staff, as well as a lot of salary-cap space to work with, it was expected.
However, the Browns have been meticulous about the types of signings they have made rather than spending recklessly on expensive, big-name players who don't fit their scheme.
We now have a clearer picture of the vision the Browns are trying to execute in 2014, one that is being crafted with a hard eye toward winning games and reaching sustainable success.