CINCINNATI — A.J. Hawk didn’t take long to decide on his next place of business.
A day after visiting the Bengals, the Centerville High School and Ohio State alum agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the club. Hawk spent the first nine seasons of his career with Green Bay after the Packers made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Hawk recorded 100 or more tackles five times with the Packers but saw his playing time decrease last year as the team worked in younger players.
He was released by Green Bay on Feb. 25.
The Bengals did not make any official announcements of signings on Tuesday, the first day of the NFL calendar year and free agency, but the agreement with Hawk was not the only move they reportedly made.
Veteran right tackle Eric Winston, who was signed in early December after Andre Smith was lost for the season with a torn triceps, announced on his Twitter account that he was re-signing with the Bengals. The Bengals were to have 11 players become unrestricted free agents when the shopping spree began at 4 p.m.
Winston started the last two games for the Bengals and in the playoffs at Indianapolis. His re-signing combined with the return of Smith and left tackle Andrew Whitworth gives the Bengals a wealth of starting experience at the tackle position.
Depth is the key to the signing of Hawk.
Cincinnati’s linebacker position group was hit hard by injuries last season. Seven different players started games at linebacker for the Bengals. Only three times did the projected starting trio of Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur actually do so. Nico Johnson, signed off the Kansas City practice squad in the middle of October, had two starts while Vinny Rey went from being the team’s top reserve to starting 13 times and leading the team in tackles.
Burfict was the NFL’s leading tackler in 2013 but played in just five games last season, first because of concussion symptoms and then after undergoing knee surgery in late October. He was one of three linebackers (Sean Porter, Jayson DiManche) who ended the season in injured reserve.
"We all know he’s a great player, and when you lose (him), like I keep saying to you, he’s the quarterback, the leader of our defense," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther during an interview at the NFL Combine last month.
Maualuga missed four games with a hamstring injury. He was kept off the free agent market when he signed a three-year deal last Friday.
Lamur was tendered a one-year contract worth $2.356 million on Tuesday as a restricted free agent. The Bengals have the right to match any offer Lamur would receive from another team and receive a second-round draft choice if they choose not to match an offer.
Hawk has missed just two games in his nine seasons.
When Hawk’s signing becomes official it will mean a reunion with kicker Mike Nugent, who was his teammate at Centerville and Ohio State. Nugent is a year older than Hawk and was Centerville’s quarterback in Hawk’s junior season. Hawk also played running back besides linebacker for the Elks. The pair helped Ohio State win the national title in 2002.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
*With Winston off the list, the 10 Bengals who became unrestricted free agents on Tuesday are: left guard Clint Boling, quarterback Jason Campbell, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Taylor Mays, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, cornerback Terence Newman, running back Cedric Peerman, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, tight end Alex Smith and wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate.
*The New York Giants signed Newhouse, who played for the Bengals last season. Newhouse was given the first opportunity to replace Smith at right tackle but struggled against edge rushers. That helped the Bengals decide to pursue and eventually sign Winston.
*NFL.com reported Tuesday night that Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley is going to visit the Bengals on Wednesday. The Bengals are interested in upgrading the defensive line on the interior and on the ends and Fairley would fit into the mix. He’s a former first round pick who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations but was having a solid season last year before a knee injury sideline him the final eight games.