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Browns reassess needs after 'steadying the ship' with acquisition of WR Andrew Hawkins

Mar 19, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Morning Kickoff …

Look at me now: Andrew Hawkins couldn’t make it out of a rookie tryout camp with the Browns in 2008. That was a 4-12 team that year.

The next year, he couldn’t win a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys, the grand prize of Michael Irvin’s reality show, 4th and Long.

He labored through two seasons in the Canadian Football League.

He was cut by the St. Louis Rams.

He played three seasons at NFL minimum salary for the Cincinnati Bengals.

And now, at the age of 28, Hawkins has reached a significant milestone in his athletic career. He became a multi-millionaire on Tuesday when a $13.6 million offer sheet from the Browns officially was not matched by the Bengals.

It really is a remarkable achievement for the wide receiver from Johnstown, PA. Did we mention he is 5-7 and 180 pounds?

All the experiences that brought Hawkins full circle back to Cleveland have made him appreciative of the job he now holds.

Hawkins will fill the slot receiver role in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense and be counted on to turn short passes in space into large gains after the catch by darting past cornerbacks and safeties, ducking under linebackers, and slipping through defensive secondaries.

“I don’t think I’d be here today had it not worked out the way it did,” Hawkins said Tuesday evening. “If I can go back, 100 times out of 100 I would do it the same way. I was able to take that minicamp film and parlay it into a reality show appearance and to my Canadian contract. It even helped out when I was trying to get signed by the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I think it helped build character. It helped me appreciate where I’m at. I understood from Day One what a privilege it was to play in the National Football League. So to come back and bring it back to Cleveland, I just think it’s fitting.”

Farmer speaks: The official signing of Hawkins likely marked the end of Phase 1 of the Browns’ free agent season. We assume that to be the case because General Manager Ray Farmer issued his first extended statement since free agency began on March 11.

Farmer has declined to be interviewed since his last public statements at the NFL Combine about a month ago.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Farmer said:

“Free agency is well under way. We’ve added several players to the roster that will continue to push in the direction we want this team to go. A couple key things to keep in mind: What we’re doing is finding talented players that can be good starters in this league, and guys that can compete to push those guys that end up being the starters.

“Since we last talked about the state of our roster, we’ve added Jim Dray, Ben Tate and now Andrew Hawkins – all offensive guys who we think can help advance our mission. These acquisitions are about steadying our ship and moving Cleveland closer to competing in our division and competing for championships.

“Like Coach Pett (Mike Pettine) has articulated, we want guys that play like Browns, and we feel like every player we’ve added in free agency embodies the characteristics we want: Passion, toughness, relentlessness, competitiveness, accountability and productivity.”

The rundown: If the first wave of Farmer’s free agency frenzy is over, let’s review the players acquired prior to Hawkins.

* Safety Donte Whitner, 28:The Cleveland native replaces T.J. Ward as a more versatile, yet physical, presence in the secondary. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler.

* Linebacker Karlos Dansby, 32: Superbly conditioned, he is faster than D’Qwell Jackson, the man he replaces at inside linebacker, if older, and more disruptive. He believes he belongs in the defensive MVP conversation.

* Cornerback Isaiah Trufant, 32: Diminutive, yet determined, he banged through the minor leagues of arena football to the minor leagues of outdoor football before making it with Pettine’s New York Jets as a reserve cornerback and special teamer.

* Tight end Jim Dray, 27: From the Stanford University tight end factory, he is primarily a blocker but proved in his fourth season with Arizona that he can catch, too.

* Running back Ben Tate, 25: A broken ankle as a rookie with Houston cost him his first shot to be a feature back, and now he is driven to seize a new opportunity and shed the label as an injury-prone, if talented, physical back.

What’s next?: There will be a Phase 2 of free agent shopping for the Browns, but it may be spread out over the weeks before the May 8 draft.

Still to be addressed are:

1. One or more guards with agility and athleticism to execute Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.

2. A cornerback good enough to man the No. 2 starting position outside and relegate Buster Skrine exclusively to the demanding role of covering slippery slot receivers.

3. A veteran quarterback either to a.) compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting  job or, b.) mentor a rookie draft pick and spread his knowledge of the Shanahan system to the quarterback room.

4. Another inside linebacker to add depth or compete for the starting job next to Dansby.

5. A fullback, preferably the old-fashioned, bloody-nosed, smash-mouth blocker to pave the way for a crucial third-and-1 handoff to Tate.

6. The resolution of the Alex Mack situation.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hastage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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