It made sense for the slot receiver to come back. With Hawkins officially out of the picture, the Bengals needed a player who could fill the role they envisioned for Hawkins before he left. While not as fast as Hawkins, Sanzenbacher plays similarly to him. He can be tough to keep track of in open space and can catch passes deep across the middle of the field, just out of the reach of safeties who might lose track of him.
It took about three weeks after Hawkins' departure for the Bengals to work out a deal with Sanzenbacher, but it finally happened. Sanzenbacher's status as a restricted free agent ended last week when Cincinnati re-signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.
That's about $230,000 less than the late-round tender the Bengals extended Sanzenbacher, Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey just before the start of free agency. Rey, who recorded career highs in tackles (47), sacks (four), and interceptions (two) last season, was the first of the three to sign. He agreed to a two-year deal that could pay him $2.1 million. As part of his deal, he also was given a roster bonus of $1 million. All of that money is guaranteed.
Sanzenbacher's contract isn't as attractive, a deal that will pay him just $200,000 of guaranteed money. His comparative hit on guaranteed money likely has more to do with his status as a reserve receiver who was inactive in seven of the 17 games the Bengals played last season. Rey appeared in all 17 of those games, and started in three of them.
Cincinnati was deep at receiver last season, and figures to be again this year. A.J. Green will continue his reign as the top pass-catcher on the team, and Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are the first receiving options after him. Brandon Tate also will be in the mix there because of his special-teams contributions. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also ought to have an impact in the passing game, as should running back Giovani Bernard. That leaves relatively few opportunities for Sanzenbacher and fellow reserve wideouts Cobi Hamilton and Ryan Whalen. Then there's still a chance the Bengals could add a receiver in the draft, making the position that much deeper.
Still, Sanzenbacher ought to have a much greater impact in 2014. In two seasons, he's been targeted just 11 times. During his rookie year at Chicago, quarterbacks threw his way 53 times.
On his eight targets last season, Sanzenbacher caught six passes for 61 yards. The Ohio State product hasn't had a touchdown reception since his three with the Bears in 2011.
Below is a quick breakdown of Sanzenbacher's contract, as provided by ESPN's Stats & Information: