Hawk's release will give the Bengals a cap savings of $1.4 million this season.
"A.J. was a big part of us last season, as we won the division championship, and I appreciate his efforts," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We're going a different direction at this point, but I've always been a fan of A.J. It has been a pleasure having him as part of our team and getting to know him and his family better."
While the move may have been expected following Karlos Dansby's free-agency addition last month, the timing of it is still curious. Hawk's release comes just three days before the NFL draft begins.
Whether Hawk, 32, had been on the roster or not prior to the draft, the Bengals still had a need at outside linebacker. But his departure could be interpreted as a sign the Bengals will try to pull off a draft-weekend trade.
Lewis mentioned during a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that trading around in an effort to get extra picks was an option. Cincinnati enters this draft scheduled to get seven picks; one per round.
After spending nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Hawk was signed by the Bengals to a two-year deal last March. It was a sort of homecoming for the former Ohio State standout. Hawk grew up in nearby Centerville, Ohio, a 45-minute drive north of Cincinnati.
On Tuesday evening, Hawk tweeted that he enjoyed his short-lived homecoming to Ohio.
I enjoyed coming back to Ohio for my time with the @Bengals. Respect and thanks to all my teammates, coaches, and fans!— AJ Hawk (@OfficialAJHawk) April 26, 2016
In a mostly relief role, he recorded 24 tackles and a sack in 15 games in 2015. Hawk's 261 snaps last season were the fewest he has had in a single season in his career. His tackle total was also the lowest of his career.