Hawkins (5-7, 175, Toledo), younger brother of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Artrell Hawkins, has proven to be a surprising weapon in a very talented Bengals receiving corps. The Bengals claimed Hawkins off waivers from St. Louis in August, 2011, and, despite his size, Hawkins made an immediate impact for the team upon being added to the main roster off practice squad in September of the 2011 season.
In 13 games in 2011, Hawkins made 23 catches for 263 yards and no touchdowns. He quickly became a fan favorite, however, due to his speed and hustle. Hawkins was never afraid to go down the middle and take hits and demonstrated a good set of hands.
2012 proved to be a breakout season of sorts for Hawkins, still playing in the slot receiver position. He picked up 51 catches for 533 yards and four scores as part of the Bengals second consecutive playoff campaign. His 2013 season began on injured reserve for an ankle injury suffered in preseason, but he was able to return for the last eight games of the season, registering just 12 catches for 199 yards.
After the 2013 season, Hawkins became a restricted free agent. The Bengals tendered him an offer of $1.4 million to return for 2014. The Browns upped the ante with an offer sheet for $13.6 million for four years, with a front load of $10.8 million for the 2014 and 2015 seasons and a $3.8 million dollar signing bonus.
Reactions are mixed on the Bengals' decision not to match the Browns' offer sheet. With the right acquisition at quarterback and the presence of receiver Josh Gordon, Hawkins has the potential to become a strong presence as the Browns' slot or even number two receiver. Given that the Browns are division rivals to the Bengals, the Bengals could end up regretting letting Hawkins leave.
On the other hand, Hawkins' new contract has very big numbers for a small receiver with no long term track record of production. Even though there is no apparent guaranteed money in the contract beyond the signing bonus, salary cap implications alone make the Hawkins signing a risky proposition for Cleveland.