Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins grew up with the Cincinnati Bengals while following his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr.’s NFL career.
The younger Hawkins could see himself wearing a Bengals uniform and playing wide receiver in Cincinnati for years to come. But the Bishop McCort High School graduate knows the business side of the NFL sometimes gets in the way of the storybook ending.
“I would love to stay with the Bengals. The Bengals (this) is where I made my name,” said Hawkins, who has played 35 games during three seasons in Cincinnati. “I was given my opportunity there. I’ve been around the Bengals organization since I was 11 years old. They have a special place in my heart.”
The Bengals tendered an offer to Hawkins, who was one of Cincinnati’s three restricted free agents. All three were tendered lowest original-round tenders worth $1.431 million.
Cincinnati would have an opportunity to match any offers other teams make Hawkins. If the Bengals don’t match the offer they would receive no compensation because Hawkins was an undrafted free agent when he joined the organization in 2011.
“The Bengals offered me a tender,” Hawkins said Saturday afternoon. “This is my first time going through it. I’ve seen it through the eyes of Artrell. It’s a process.”
Hawkins has 86 career NFL receptions for 995 yards, including a career-best 51 catches for 80 yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
Last season an ankle injury he suffered during training camp limited Hawkins to eight games played during the second half of the season, and he caught 12 passes for 199 yards.
“It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to play anywhere,” said Hawkins, who turns 28 on Monday. “I take it for what it is. The business side is something new to me. But it’s a blessing to get to that point anyways. I’m very grateful and I thank God to where he’s brought me.”
Rumors surfaced on social media and Internet blogs and stories that the New York Jets and Washington Redskins might have interest in Hawkins, who became a fan favorite in Cincinnati because of his work ethic as a 5-foot-7 receiver at a position often dominated by the prototypical taller playmakers.
Former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is the new head coach of the Redskins.
Hawkins said he couldn’t comment on any speculation.
“As an unrestricted (free agent) you get to pick where you'd like to go,” Hawkins said. “Restricted, a team has to jump through a couple more hoops if they want to steal you away.”
Hawkins took the unconventional route to the NFL, so he’s accustomed to encountering obstacles and distractions. After his career at the University of Toledo, he was a star of the Michael Irvin reality TV show “4th and Long,” which pitted six wide receivers against six defensive backs for several weeks of competition in 2009.
Hawkins played on two Canadian Football League Grey Cup championship teams in Montreal before signing with the Bengals.
Last season, he overcame another hurdle while contending with the ankle injury.
“You learn a lot. It’s a part of the game,” Hawkins said. “The NFL is a 100 percent injury rate. At some point you’re going to deal with it. The timing wasn’t the greatest, but everything happens for a reason.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.