Is Brian Hartline Really Worth it for the Dolphins?

Jim Rogash

One of the most hotly contested topics this offseason among Miami Dolphins fans has been the future of our very own Brian Hartline. Out of contract going into the 2013 season, Hartline wants to get paid handsomely. But is he worth it? Let’s take a quick look.

In this day and age, where the passing game rules the NFL, it's inevitable wide receivers are going to get paid well. For us common folk, the numbers are astronomical. For what some players earn in a year, most of us will never see in our entire lifetimes. But that's life, and where supply meets demand, you have to splash the cash. And that is what Jeff Ireland is expected to do this offseason. With the best part of $46 million in his piggy bank, he'll be like a kid in a candy shop looking for some of the best treats on the market. But one thing he'll have to ascertain is whether Brian Hartline truly deserves the contract he is reportedly seeking.

Put simply: is he worth it? First, let's take a look at his production. As you can see below, there are two tables. The first table is far more detailed than the second. The reasoning behind that is because I really want to focus on his 2012 season. His 2012 season was the year he showed a big jump in pretty much everything apart from touchdowns and yards after the catch.

GP

REC

TAR

YDS

TD

LONG

20+

YD/G

F

1DN

YAC

2012

16

74

128

1,083

1

80

14

67.7

1

48

240

So what can we make of this? Well, Brian Hartline is extremely durable. That's a good plus point because every team needs their best wide receivers available in order to make plays and win games. What also jumps off the page is the amount of times Ryan Tannehill targeted Hartline. It's clear Hartline was his favourite receiver. As a result of this Hartline produced with 1,083 receiving yards (16th best in the NFL). In fact, he was so important to the offense, that he also made in excess of 20 yards 14 times (joint 20th in the NFL) and got to the first down mark a remarkable 48 times (joint 23rd).

On the downside is the lack of touchdowns and failure to produce many yards after the catch. The best wide receivers score touchdowns; it's how they make a living and how teams defeat the opposition. But Hartline hasn't had many of them this year. Moreover, the west coast offense generally requires their receivers to make yards after the catch. A high percentage of the throws made are short throws are designed for the wide receiver to make extra gains with their feet. Hartline hasn't done much of that, either. In fact, he averages only 3.2 yards extra once he's caught the ball.

GP

REC

TAR

YDS

LONG

TD

1DN

F

2009

16

31

56

506

67

3

26

0

2010

12

43

73

615

54

1

27

1

2011

16

35

67

549

48

1

30

0

Jumping to the next table, Hartline's previous three years since being with the Dolphins tells much of the same story. He's a reliable and durable wide receiver, but doesn't get many touchdowns.

This is where my analysis starts. Is Hartline simply a product of the system? Did he receive inflated stats because there simply weren't many good wide receivers in this Dolphins team last year? My answer to that is yes, but with a big word of caution.

While Hartline may have been the best receiver of a mediocre bunch, the end result was that the opposing team based their defensive game plan on predominantly shutting Hartline down. I can't even count the amount of times he drew double coverage. And despite this, he still produced. Yes, he didn't score many touchdowns or gain many YAC. But he still managed to gain separation in order to make the catch and gain yards. It seemed he was a safety valve to Ryan Tannehill. If Tannehill threw a decent ball Hartline's way, more often than not he would catch them. This produced first downs and moved the chains. It was predictable, but did they have any other choice?

My second argument is that Hartline is tailor-made for a west coast offense. Numerous times I've seen writers point to the fact that Hartline didn't produce touchdowns when Brandon Marshall was with the team. While this is a plausible argument, it really doesn't take into account that Miami were running a totally different offense. Tony Sparano loved to ground and pound the defense with a good running back and big offensive lineman. But he also liked to have his quarterback really focus on a big target-man in Brandon Marshall. This placed shackles around Hartline's feet because he received far less throws than in 2012. He wasn't utilised to the best of his ability. This new offense that Philbin and Sherman are trying to implement is far more balanced, demanding that the quarterback spreads the ball to multiple receivers. That should be right up Hartline's alley, and we'll see it put into much better effect once the team brings some receivers to compliment Hartline's skill-set.

And this is it. Hartline will also be more productive when he has better receivers around him. If you look at the most successful teams, they have a stable of quality receivers. Do you think Greg Jennings would have gotten his impressive stats if he was on a team with mediocre receivers? Last year Jennings had James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson playing with him. Those are some good players. The same goes for Mike Wallace; he had good players playing with him last year too. It creates headaches for the defensive coordinator because they have to specifically plan not just for one guy, but four guys. The end result is that it will almost certainly be openings in a game for a receiver to make a big impact when there are good players playing alongside him.

These are all reasons why Hartline is demanding a contract worth in the ballpark of $6-7 million. I would expect he's looking for a contract similar to the 4 year $25 million Anquan Boldin received, or the 4 year $30 million contract that Steve Smith received from the Carolina Panthers. Those players had almost identical stats last year except touchdowns, with four each. That's more touchdowns than Hartline, but I feel that he can reach those figures next year. I mean, Hartline probably looks at the stats and thinks to himself that they will only get better once the team gets better receivers. But there lies the conundrum. Do Miami give Hartline a contract with the expectation that he scores more touchdowns next year? Do they pay him handsomely for potential, rather than actual production? It's a tough one and only Jeff Ireland can solve it.

So, should Brian Hartline stay? My answer is yes. He is a reliable safety net for Ryan Tannehill that consistently catches the ball to move the chains. It's what he does. If you take that away, it will create problems. You don't want to take away a receiver that has chemistry with your young star quarterback. This is especially true when you consider how many veteran wide receivers could not do the same, and eventually found themselves cut from the roster. And what's to say that the new wide receivers will be successful? Are you banking on a rookie to step up in his first year? There are no certainties in the draft. What if, say, Mike Wallace arrives and takes a few games to learn the playbook. Who will Tannehill throw the ball to then? It's almost a no brainer to sign him. But then when the contract demands are factored in, it refocuses the mind. There are no ifs and buts about it. $6-7 million is a lot of money. Ireland needs to be sure Hartline is worth it.

This brings me back to the start: is Brian Hartline worth it for the Miami Dolphins? I'll let you decide.

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