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The Miami Dolphins are reportedly close to re-signing Brian Hartline, the team's leading wide receiver in 2012, to a multiyear deal days before he was set to become a free agent.
Fox Sports reported Tuesday that the two sides are near a deal that would pay Hartline between $6 million and $6.5 million a season. The Palm Beach Post also reported Tuesday that Hartline and the Dolphins are "deep into negotiations" on a deal.
Hartline will be allowed to start negotiating with other teams on Saturday, and the Dolphins may be concerned that he could be priced out of their plans when other teams can start bidding on him.
Hartline led the Dolphins with 74 catches for 1,083 yards in 2012, the best season of his four-year career. The Dolphins selected him in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. For his career, Hartline has 183 receptions for 2,753 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Dolphins are expected to try to make upgrades at the wide receiver position, and a deal with Hartline is likely just the first step in that process. Miami is among the possible destinations for free agents Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings, either of which could fill out a potentially dangerous receiver corps alongside Hartline and Davone Bess.
The Dolphins could also use their twelfth pick in April's draft on a receiver. Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, and Cal's Keenen Allen are among the top prospects in the draft at receiver, but only Patterson is projected to be picked in the top third of the first round.
But despite Hartline's career season, it was clear last year that he alone cannot carry Miami's offense. Of all those catches Hartline made, only one resulted in a touchdown.
The Dolphins' lack of a legitimate deep threat forced the team to over-rely on short underneath passes to Bess and Hartline, slowing down the offense's pace and making it difficult for the team to overcome deficits late in games.
Signing Hartline will ensure that young quarterback Ryan Tannehill still has his favorite target, but adding an impact receiver like Wallace (who has averaged 17 yards per reception over his four-year career, two more than Hartline) or Patterson (who average 17 yards per reception at Tennessee last season) would likely have a bigger impact than re-signing Hartline alone.
Teams will be able to start negotiating with free agents from other teams beginning on Saturday. The Dolphins have only just begun to execute general manager Jeff Ireland's offseason plan, there are surely more twists and turns ahead.