"I flew to Cleveland last week, met with the team," Hawkins said via Uninterrupted.com. "It was a tough call, but at the end of the day just felt like it was in the best interests of all that we move on."
Hawkins was a personal favorite of Hue Jackson, and stood next to the bleary-eyed head coach in the locker room after the Browns' only win of the season. Through the entire season, Jackson pointed to Hawkins as an example of leadership and professionalism in a tough situation.
But Hawkins will be 31 on March 10 and the Browns are a young team that drafted four receivers a year ago. Even though none had an outstanding rookie season, the Browns want to give them a longer look.
The team is still talking contract extension with Terrelle Pryor as well. If the Browns keep Pryor, they will retain their leaders in catches, yards and touchdown receptions. If Pryor doesn't return, the Browns still will have Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton.
Coleman finished his rookie season with 33 receptions and was ineffective after he returned from a broken hand in Week 10. Higgins, Louis and Payton combined for 25 receptions, and Payton was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.
Hawkins signed with the Browns as a restricted free agent in the spring of 2014. He led Cleveland with 63 catches and 824 yards in his first season, but had just 60 catches the past two seasons combined.
"I want to thank the Cleveland Browns for not only understanding my situation and where I am in my career but more importantly giving me the opportunity to wear the storied orange and brown over the last three seasons," Hawkins said.
He thanked the fans and urged them to be optimistic "because Hue Jackson is one of the best coaches in all of football, and he's changing the culture there on a daily basis."
"It's tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you've asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership," Jackson said in a statement released by the team.
"Hawk was a rock for us last season. He kept our locker room together and led by example as he gave everything he had on the field. Our young players are going to be better players and better people because of the time they spent with Andrew Hawkins."
Hawkins' 33 catches in 2016 were for 324 yards and three touchdowns. He tied for second on the team among the team's wide receivers in touchdown receptions, and was third in yards.