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The curious case of Brian Hartline

The Miami Dolphins need to make a decision on the future of wide receiver Brian Hartline.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason will be filled with many tough decisions for the Miami Dolphins, from deciding to keep a player who is clearly frustrated with the offense to re-signing several key players soon to become free agents. The Dolphins have to find some salary cap relief as well, especially if they want to upgrade in free agency next month. A lot of tough decisions, including a key on in the future of wide receiver Brian Hartline.

After the 2012 season, coming off his first 1,000-yard receiving performance, Hartline signed a five-year, $30.775 million contract. He then backed up his 2012 season with a second straight 1,000-yard receiving year in 2013. Then, 2014 came around, and Hartline disappeared. Not like, did not have as many catches, but more like, may as well have not been on the field for some games. In 16 games played, all starts, Hartline had three games with no receptions, three more with just one reception, and three more with two catches. His highest catch total was six, in the team's Week 4 win over the Oakland Raiders. He caught two touchdowns on the year, and finished the season with just 474 receiving yards, his lowest career total, as well as a 12.2 yards per reception average, over a yard lower than his previous career low.

Which brings up the curious question of what the Dolphins should do with Hartline.

He is scheduled to count for $7.35 million against the team's salary cap in 2015, with a savings of $3.15 million if the team just outright releases him. If they make him a post-June 1 cut, potentially using one of their two authorized designations for a June 1 release, that savings jumps to $5.95 million. That could be a large chunk of money for a team looking to stock depth and fill holes this offseason.

Hartline's disappearance from the Miami offense probably has less to do with his playing ability and more to do with the offense itself. Miami never seemed to make Hartline a focal point of their attack, instead using Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, Charles Clay, and Lamar Miller. Does that indicate Hartline is in decline? Does it indicate that the Dolphins are ready to move on from the wide receiver who was, at one point, quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite target?

It's a question that may not have an answer right now, but it is one that needs an answer soon. Could the Dolphins and Hartline reach a deal on an extension that lowers his cap number this year? Potentially, but that may depend on if Hartline wants to remain in Miami, if his agent thinks he could make more in free agency, and if the Dolphins see him as a needed part of their offense. As the team looks to build around younger talent like Clay, Landry, and Miller, Hartline may land on the wrong side of a difficult, business decision.