Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins will catch NFL passes in Ohio this season.
Whether the fourth-year slot receiver is running routes for the Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals will be determined in the next five days.
A restricted free agent, Hawkins signed an offer sheet the Browns had extended earlier this week reportedly worth $13.6 million over four years, with a $3.8 signing bonus.
“It’s a blessing. It really is,” Hawkins said during a Thursday telephone interview. “I do work hard. At the same time, my goal originally was to play one game in the NFL. To make it to this point, I’ve got to pinch myself.
“God has been with me and given me the strength to fight through everything I’ve gone through in my situation. The support of my family and friends has meant the world. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
The Bengals have five days to match the Browns’ offer by Tuesday. If not, Hawkins will join the Browns, and because he was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Cleveland wouldn’t owe the Bengals any compensation. Cincinnati initially tendered an offer of $1.432 million to Hawkins last week, prior to the free agent signing period.
“I have the waiting period to see if the Bengals match,” said Hawkins, a Bishop McCort High School graduate who turned 28 on Monday. “I signed the offer sheet with Cleveland but the Bengals have my rights.”
In many ways, it’s a win-win situation for Hawkins, a 5-foot-7 playmaker who has overcome scrutiny about his size at every level of his career.
One scenario would put him in Cleveland, where the Browns need help at wide receiver.
The other has Hawkins remaining with the Bengals, a playoff team that made significant strides in recent seasons as the Browns continued to struggle. Plus, Hawkins grew up following the Bengals as his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr., a former second-round draft pick, played defensive back for six seasons in Cincinnati.
Either way, financially, Andrew Hawkins comes out on top.
“It goes beyond just getting here. I’ve been working towards a long-term contract,” said Hawkins, limited to 12 receptions for 199 yards after missing extended time due to an ankle injury suffered in training camp last season. “The Browns told me I was a priority and they wanted to get it done. I thought they came with a great offer. I never would have imagined this years ago.”
Hawkins had a career-best 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. Overall, he has 86 career receptions for 995 yards in three NFL seasons.
With Hawkins, there are intangibles. His work ethic stands out. Combine that with his sub-4.4 40 speed and ability to make defenders miss, and Hawkins has the potential to create big plays.
Of course, there also is Hawkins’ persistence.
When no big-time Division I programs came calling, he signed with the University of Toledo and became an impact player, even working on both sides of the ball at times.
When pro opportunities were scarce, Hawkins took a role on the Michael Irvin reality TV competition “4th and Long,” which matched six defensive backs and six receivers in a weekly contest. Hawkins finished second.
Next, he landed in the Canadian Football League and played on two Grey Cup championship teams in Montreal.
Finally, in 2011 he got his chance with the Bengals, a team he often calls “family.”
“We’ve been in contact with the Bengals. They have to do their due diligence. It’s part of the business,” Hawkins said. “I’m still grateful to the Bengals for them giving me my chance. Either way it works out, I’m happy about it. I thank God that I am respected by NFL teams. I’m excited about what next year brings.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.