These are good times for Brian Hartline. His best NFL season is over and the timing was perfect because it came in the final year of his contract. So now all that awaits the Dolphins receiver is good news, financial security and the beginning of his career’s most important phase.
Maybe that’s the reason Hartline arrived at lunch one afternoon last week with a big smile on his face and seemingly no worries on his mind.
He rode a slick Yamaha R-1 motorcycle to the Las Olas Boulevard eatery where we met a short distance from his condo. In a few hours, he would be off on a Colorado ski vacation with some buddies.
No, he’s wasn’t going to ski, but he was definitely planning to go snowboarding.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I’ve done it my whole life. My parents told me to be smart. Trust me, I’m not going to be aggressive. I don’t ride the bike during the season. I don’t jump out of planes or anything. Everything will be all right.”
Hartline is done with the worrying because he was doing lots of it the past six months when he wasn’t busy catching a career-high 74 passes for 1,083 yards.
He worried about making the team in training camp because he was injured. He worried about performing well during the season to earn a new contract. He worried whether the Dolphins really wanted him because the extension they offered at midseason was practically insulting.
“That sense of uncertainty could drive you crazy,” Hartline said.
And that burden seemingly weighed more when people simply didn’t allow Hartline to forget about what was at stake every time he played.
“It’s very rare when you don’t get asked about it a couple of times a week,” he said. “Somebody always brings it up — either somebody new I meet or maybe my mom asking if anything’s been brought up by the team. She’s just curious. She asks, ‘Anything new?’ And I had to tell her, ‘No.’
“I can totally see how guys can ruin their contract years. It’s a weight to carry.”
The Dolphins did only one contract extension during the 2012 season, a modest deal for backup Jason Trusnik. But they did include Hartline among the handful of players to whom they offered extensions.
How’d that go?
“It was, I would say, something I would have thought about last year,” Hartline said of Miami’s offer. “Midway through this year, where my situation was at, it just didn’t match up. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world but it was outdated, I would say.”
He’s being kind. Hartline actually was initially upset with the offer and had to be talked off a proverbial ledge by agent Drew Rosenhaus.
“I’m thinking, ‘How am I expected to respond to this?’ ” Hartline admitted. “But we decided to look on the bright side. I looked at it from the Dolphins’ viewpoint, which was they want to start talking, which is always good.”
The talk went nowhere. Rosenhaus did not respond to Miami’s offer. And no conversations have taken place in the week since the season ended, either.
But Hartline is one of the free agents the Dolphins must try to re-sign, because they need to add wide receiver talent rather than spend a second consecutive season subtracting from it.
So Hartline expects the Dolphins will sign him before free agency begins in March.
“If that doesn’t happen, I would be disappointed,” he said. “I have a sense of pride in the body of work that I’ve done here. I still want the Dolphins to want me to stay here. If they didn’t, I’d be like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ ”
Hartline hasn’t done anything wrong, but sometimes other teams place a higher value on a free agent than his original team. Maybe the Dolphins will expect a hometown discount from their player.
”I don’t know about that,” Hartline said. “I would say they did get a hometown discount when they got a starter for three years and paid the minimum for three years. That’s how I’d approach it.”
My hope is the Dolphins keep Hartline and add perhaps a Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, and suddenly the three-wide set is Wallace, Hartline and Davone Bess or Jennings, Hartline and Bess.
I’d be thrilled if the team could add both Wallace and Jennings, and keep Hartline as the No. 3. Suddenly, and for the first time in decades, the Dolphins could put three excellent, experienced receivers on the field at the same time, as they did when Nat Moore, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper played.
“Anytime you can add more playmakers to a situation, do it. You need it because you’re going to have injuries,” Hartline said, showing enthusiasm for the idea.
“The NFL isn’t about the ground-and-pound running game anymore. It’s about throwing the ball.”
Free agency can be treacherous territory for teams overpaying players who suddenly feel comfortable with their money. The Dolphins should know that would not be the case with Hartline.
“That’s impossible for me. I don’t operate that way,” he said. “There are certain people that reach certain goals throughout the year and take the foot off the gas. I honestly have no idea how to do that. You see it with some guys. You see them lying on the ground a little longer than they used to. I’m just not wired that way.”
Hartline believes if the Dolphins sign him to a new deal and give him the same opportunities next season, he’ll deliver.
“I went for 1,000 yards. And people ask, ‘Can he do it again?’ ” Hartline said. “Sure. I can do it again. If I get those opportunities, I’ll do it again. I will make the plays.”
There’s no reason to doubt that, and it’s a certainty some team — either the Dolphins or someone else — will feel that way, too. Until then, Hartline can enjoy the fact he did his part in 2012.
“I have a peace now because I know I did everything I possibly could to put my best foot forward to try to impress the Dolphins and help me stay here,” he said.
“The rest is out of my hands. There’s nothing more I can do.”