Bengals explain decision not to match Hawkins offer

Dec 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (16) celebrates during the game against the Baltimore Ravens in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Baltimore 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Zerof/Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have declined to match wide receiver Andrew Hawkins’ offer sheet from the Browns.

In a statement from the team, head coach Marvin Lewis said:

"I don’t want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard working and contributing player. He has set a great example of being a great teammate. But we’re fortunate to have a lot of depth at wide receiver, and we’re excited to move forward. Our leading receivers from last year will all return, and we have another group who know our system and have earned our confidence that they are ready to see more action.

"It’s a given that we will invest in players to the limit of the salary cap, but the system means teams have to make choices, and we don’t believe this match, at this time, would serve our goal of allocating resources roster-wide for the best possible team come September."

The 28-year-old Hawkins signed a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet from the Browns Wednesday. The deal included $10.8 million in the first two years.

The Bengals had six receivers catch at least 39 passes last season, top 445 yards and catch at least two touchdown passes from quarterback Andy Dalton. Hawkins would be the third wide receiver, at best, on the Bengals depth chart behind A.J. Green and Marvin Jones with Mohamed Sanu also in the mix. Add in tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert as well as running back Giovani Bernard into the passing attack and the contract Hawkins received made it tough for the Bengals to justify matching.

Green is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Bengals would like to sign the three-time Pro Bowl and two-time second team All-Pro pick to a long-term contract extension. Jones caught 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns in his second season making the former fifth-round pick another target for extension after the 2014 season.

Hawkins’ signing with the Browns could open the door for former Ohio State wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to increase his playing time. Sanzenbacher is also a restricted free agent. Like Hawkins and linebacker Vinny Rey, who re-signed with the Bengals last Saturday, Sanzenbacher received a one-year tender offer worth $1.4 million. He is free to negotiate with other teams but the Bengals retain the right to match any offer he gets.

UFA VISIT: The Bengals confirmed Tuesday that unrestricted free agent offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse of Green Bay has been to Cincinnati for a visit. The Bengals are looking to shore up their backup tackle positions after losing Anthony Collins to Tampa Bay as a UFA.

Bengals free agency update:

UFA: OT Dennis Roland, DB Chris Crocker, LB Michael Boley, TE Alex Smith, P Zoltan Mesko.

Re-signed: S Taylor Mays, OG Mike Pollak, LB Vinny Rey, WR Brandon Tate

Released to free agency: C Kyle Cook, LB James Harrison

RFA: WR Dane Sanzenbacher.

Signed with another team: DB Brandon Ghee (San Diego), WR Andrew Hawkins (Cleveland), OT Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay), DE Michael Johnson (Tampa Bay)