When the Cleveland Browns signed Andrew Hawkins to a four-year deal worth $13.6 million, the Cincinnati Bengals had a decision to make. Should they match Cleveland's offer, keeping Hawkins in Cincinnati on a contract that they clearly didn't like? Or should they let him go? And if they let him go, what would the impact be against Cincinnati, who plays Cleveland twice-a-year and, can they replace him?
Obviously the impact won't be known until they actually play the games, but Cincinnati appears comfortable enough with their roster to replace him. After all, they won 11 games last year with the league's 10th-best offense and eighth-best passing offense, all while Hawkins spent most of the season injured.
But it wasn't a single receiver that replaced Hawkins as the traditional slot receiver. Mohamed Sanu spent the most time there (241 routes), but A.J. Green (122 routes) and Marvin Jones (62) also rotated in. Tight ends Tyler Eifert (111 routes) and Jermaine Gresham (94 routes) also had cameo roles in the slot.
Yet, the player with the strongest candidacy to replace Hawkins' may favor Dane Sanzenbacher, who of 50 offensive routes in 2013, 44 came from the slot. Sanzenbacher also figures to have a greater impact (at least as the "Hawkins replacement") on special teams, where he generated a couple of big returns during the '13 preseason. Sanzenbacher figures to also work as a gunner on punts.
Cincinnati signed Sanzenbacher earlier this week to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million that breaks down as follows:
Signing Bonus: $200,000
Workout Bonus: $50,000
The contract is actually less than his $1.4 million tender because the deal that he signed offers more guaranteed money. If Cincinnati wants to release him, it'll transfer the $200,000 signing bonus into dead money but save the team $1 million.
Sanzenbacher is a fourth-year NFL player, who joined the Bengals late in 2012, seeing his first Cincinnati action last season in 10 games with one start and catching six passes for 61 yards. He had a key catch for a late first down in an Oct. 20 win at Detroit. He played in 21 games for Chicago over 2011-12 and has career NFL totals of 34 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
"Dane is a player with an instinctive feel for the game," said Bengals WR coach James Urban, "and he should have the chance for more playing time this year than we were able to find for him last year. He’s got assets that can help make us better."