Breaking Down Brian Hartline's New Contract with the Dolphins

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 16:  Brian Hartline #82 of the Miami Dolphins tosses his gloves to fans after reaching the 1000 yard milestone during a game  against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Sun Life Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

News of Brian Hartline's five-year, $30.77 million contract broke last week—another polarizing move from beleaguered general manager Jeff Ireland. 

The ranks are split among Dolphins fans, if Twitter is any indication—there was a measure of outrage over the contract. Fans' reaction, while devoid of anger, was equally split:

Brian Hartline re-signing with Dolphins a pre-free agency move that makes great sense.Both sides choose known over unknown.

— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) March 8, 2013

Five years, $30.55 million is a lot for a No. 2 wide receiver. Good for Brian Hartline.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 8, 2013

Like Brian Hartline and all. But dude has 2x as many guaranteed millions (12.5) as he does career touchdowns (6).

— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) March 8, 2013

After all, the $6.15 million average annual salary might seem exorbitant for a guy who scored just one touchdown last season. Indeed, if we were to break it down a certain way, Hartline was rewarded just over $1 million per career touchdown.

But things are rarely that simple, and that is certainly the case here.

For starters, the annual average should not have come as a surprise. It was a figure many estimated, including yours truly, and rumors swirled Hartline was getting a deal worth between $6 million and $6.5 million annually in the days leading up to the contract announcement.

The real issue here is the $12.5 million guarantee Hartline has built into his contract. That is slightly more than the guarantees Laurent Robinson and Robert Meachem received last offseason when they both signed contracts that averaged slightly more per season overall.

Hartline received a signing bonus of $7 million, all of which is considered "guaranteed." After all, the money gets paid up front—there is no better guarantee than that.

Just got the numbers on Brian Hartline's contract. Signing bonus of $7 million, 2013 cap number of $2.115 million

— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) March 11, 2013

That leaves $5.5 million of the guaranteed to paid out. The Dolphins accomplish that through Hartline's base salary over the first two years:

Brian Hartline's 5-yr, $30.775M deal has a $2.115M '13 cap number. $7M signing bonus w/$715k & $4.785M '13 & '14 base salaries fully GTD.

— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 11, 2013

His 2012 cap hit is of particular importance in the Mike Wallace sweepstakes. The move, coupled with Matt Moore's re-signing, left Miami with about $31 million in room. 

More to the point, however, is that the devil is in the details of the contract. It might be worth $30.77 million over the life of the contract, but there is an escape hatch for Miami if things do not go as planned.

This contract structure means cutting Hartline would count for about $4.2 million of the 2015 cap if things do not pan out for him in Miami by then. If the Dolphins were to to utilize the June 1 cut rule, the cut would cost $2.1 million against the cap for 2015 and 2016.

All that to say, Brian Hartline essentially signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract. If he fails to produce, the Dolphins can cut him while having paid over half of the $30.77 million.

Though $6.25 million per season might seem like a lot for a guy with six touchdowns in his career, it is simply market value. 

Of course, the hope in Miami is that Hartline remains a reliable receiver for Ryan Tannehill over the years. Pairing him with a guy like Wallace could do wonders for his game and the offense in general. In the event he blossoms over the next five years, his contract will wind up being a bargain.

Whether Hartline can live up to the full value of the contract will be determined by his play over the next two seasons. If he doesn't, the Dolphins will have overpaid him for two seasons with a relatively easy way out. If he does, Miami will have paid market value for a solid piece to their offense.