A Bengals fan growing up, A.J. Hawk agreed to a two year contract with the team barely an hour and a half after the start of free agency on Tuesday. The Ohio native, despite being on the wrong side of his thirties, comes home to provide insurance for any Burfict-related injury and also gives Paul Guenther a much needed SAM backer that Cincinnati has lacked for years.
Hawk comes from a 3-4 system and was struggling in the middle, but he is consistent against the run and that is where the Bengals got burnt last season. The move also allows Lamur to man either the WILL position if Burfict misses time or play alongside him in nickel packages.
AJ Hawk probably starts at SLB. Lets Lamur stay at Nickel LB. Puts them both where they're at their strengths.— Joe G (@JoeGoodberry) March 10, 2015
I know Bengals fans were expecting this year's free agency like Terminator geeks were hoping for humanity to finally beat Skynet in the upcoming movie, and instead they thought they would have to settle for another reset to the series.
After allowing for a few hours to cool down and look at things from another perspective, the Hawk signing looks helpful on paper, if only as a modest move.
I was cool with signing a player like Hawk before the Maualuga deal. Now it looks silly. But, I can see why it makes sense on the field.— Joe G (@JoeGoodberry) March 10, 2015
It looks like the Bengals pulled a James Harrison again, bringing a veteran they know (Harrison previously played for Pittsburgh and Hawk played at Ohio State) to help anchor the run defense.
Whoa, @ColeyHarvey - James Harrison was an extremely good run defender in his year in Cincinnati.— Jake Liscow (@Jake_NFL) March 10, 2015
Hawk signed a two year deal with the Bengals, and he also comes with championship winning pedigree (take that Joe Flacco), as Harrison did a couple of years ago. While he was reportedly released by Green Bay with a "failed physical" designation, he has barely missed time in his nine-year NFL career. He was also the Packers' leading tackler, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2010, although somebody in Oakland is arguing this very same thing about Jermaine Gresham.
The Bengals will be expecting that the veteran linebacker can revitalize his game in a 4-3 defense, with a much more defined role. And, they're sure to be hoping he can replicate some of the success (now, I can see some laughter) Maualuga had when becoming a two down backer.
Hawk's PFF grade of -11.6 last season ranked him 52nd out of 60 eligible ILB, but again, we stay here on the greener side and focus on what he can bring to the table instead. Lamur struggled mightily against the run last season and has always been better suited to play the nickel back position. Hawk could benefit from playing less than 70% of the snaps that he saw in 2014 with the Packers. In contrast to Harrison, he knows how to play within a 4-3 system, as Green Bay only switched to a 3-4 with Don Capers' hiring in 2009. The Bengals also are hoping at least one linebacker can stay healthy for a full campaign, so Vinnie Rey doesn't have to double as he did in Week 5 of 2014.
If the move doesn't pan out Cincinnati could be again shopping for another SAM next season, but right now it seems Marvin Lewis has identified one of the issues the defense had all year long and has addressed it.