The makeover of the Cleveland Browns continues with the release of receiver Andrew Hawkins in what is a sign of the Browns continuing with a youth movement as they overhaul their entire franchise. The Browns released a statement from head coach Hue Jackson praising Hawkins work last season with the teams young receivers that read in part:
“Our young players are going to be better players and better people because of the time they spent with Andrew Hawkins”
Though it did not get much attention, Hawkins signed one of the more interesting contracts in recent memory back in 2014, which I think is worth looking back on.
The contract was a very unique approach to stealing a restricted free agent through the use of player friendly cash flows rather than an overwhelming contract value. Hawkins was tendered at the lowest level by division rival Cincinnati which gave the Bengals the chance to match any offer made by another team. Generally speaking you would definitely not want to see a contributing player from your organization stay within the division, but from time to time it happens.
The Bengals at the time were very deep at receiver featuring AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, so Hawkins was buried on the depth chart. The year before Hawkins saw increased playing time due to injuries and was productive as the second most targeted receiver on the team with 533 yards on 80 targets which would project to lower level number 2 numbers, which would be worth in the range of $3.5 to $4 million a season, though he would be worth more than that if a team projected big upside in him.
While the Bengals may not have matched a traditional offer at that price, it cant be discounted since Gresham only had one more year remaining under contract and Jones and Sanu had two, so they could have considered keeping Hawkins as an insurance policy for 2014 and 2015 before slotting in as a low cost starter across from Green in 2016. To make sure that they got their guy the Browns crafted a contract in which Hawkins would be paid like a higher level (at the time) number 2, earning $10.8 million over the first two years of the contract before his contract would come crashing down to $1 million in 2016 and $1.8 million in 2017.
Since Hawkins was likely not going to see the field for the Bengals in those first two years there would be no way for the Bengals to justify that kind of investment for the potential reward of low cost seasons in 2016 and 2017. So the Browns strategy paid off. The only real risk for the Browns was if Hawkins did not complete three years with the team. Once he reached the one low salary mark the deal would turn out ok for the team. Hawkins was terrific in his first year, putting up the higher level 2 stats with over 800 receiving yards in 2014. He dealt with injuries in 2015 before settling into a role as a third target last season.
His release just saves the Browns just $1.8 million and the team has ridiculous amounts of cap room, but in a numbers game they just werent going to have a spot for a 31 year old while trying to groom some young draft picks from last year to be the starters of the future. Hawkins should be able to catch on with another team as a third target if he continues to play in the NFL.