To match, or not to match: That is the question the Browns must wait for the Cincinnati Bengals to answer.
Bengals restricted free-agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins signed an offer sheet from the Browns, the Browns confirmed. The deal is for four years and worth $13.6 million, including a $3.8 million signing bonus due next week, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because the terms were not announced. The offer sheet was submitted to the Bengals on Thursday.
The Bengals have five days, or until Tuesday, to match the offer. If they don’t, Hawkins will join the Browns.
NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported Thursday that the Bengals are unlikely to match the offer after rethinking their position. Apparently, they have vacillated on the issue.
When Hawkins originally agreed to the deal with the Browns on Tuesday night, NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reported a Bengals source said the team wasn’t likely to match the offer. Then on Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Bengals planned to match the offer after all. But on Thursday, Breer reported the structure of the offer sheet caused the Bengals to flip-flop again.
Reports about the value of the contract have been inconsistent as well because the deal had been reworked since Tuesday, the source said. Rapoport reported Thursday that the contract would pay Hawkins $10.8 million in the first two years. Because the deal is front-loaded, the source considers it doubtful the Bengals will match it.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what the Bengals will do. After all, it’s possible that they could change their minds again before the deadline and match the offer.
Geoff Hobson, the Bengals’ website editor, wrote that there’s no sign of a decision either way and that the release of linebacker James Harrison on Thursday was unrelated to Hawkins’ situation. He explained the Bengals must decide whether they want to make Hawkins, 28, the second highest-paid receiver on their roster, even though he was used primarily as a fourth-stringer last season. Hobson also wrote that the team doesn’t want to give an AFC North rival an explosive player like Hawkins, who coach Marvin Lewis has been hoping to use as a runner and a receiver.
The Bengals reportedly tendered Hawkins for $1.45 million. Because Hawkins went undrafted after his career at the University of Toledo ended in 2007, the Browns would not have to give the Bengals any compensation if the offer isn’t matched.
The Browns need a slot receiver like Hawkins to fill the void created by the departure of Davone Bess, whose off-field issues led to the team cutting him last week. While the Browns wait to learn the Bengals’ move, they’ve reportedly been exploring other options.
Michael Giardi of Comcast SportsNet New England reported Thursday morning that the Browns were making a “strong push” to sign Patriots free-agent receiver Julian Edelman. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was lobbying for Edelman, his former teammate with the New England Patriots and a former Kent State quarterback.
ESPN reported that Edelman is scheduled to visit the San Francisco 49ers on Friday.
Also, new Browns strong safety Donte Whitner said Wednesday that he told the organization to pursue fellow Cleveland native and Carolina Panthers free-agent receiver Ted Ginn Jr., his former teammate at Glenville High School, Ohio State and with the 49ers. But Ginn visited the Arizona Cardinals later in the day and signed a three-year deal with them, the team announced.
As for 5-foot-7, 180-pound Hawkins, he missed eight games last season with a high-ankle sprain and had 12 catches for 199 yards. In 2012, he had 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. During his first NFL season in 2011, he had 23 catches for 263 yards in 13 games for the Bengals.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.