Decked in a charcoal suit and still tan from a West Indies holiday, Brian Hartline strode into Miami Dolphins headquarters late Thursday night to sign the biggest contract of his career.
As the ink was still drying on his five-year, $30.8million deal — with $12.5 million guaranteed — Hartline turned to assembled Dolphins officials and told them he was ready to get to work.
Not actually catching passes or running routes, mind you (although he plans to soon do so with Ryan Tannehill).
Rather, Hartline wants to help in Jeff Ireland’s coming charm offensive.
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The league’s three-day negotiating window permitting contact with other teams’ free agents opens at midnight Saturday, the start of perhaps the most consequential week of Ireland’s time in Miami.
Ireland, the Dolphins’ general manager, is expected to make an all-out push to convince several top-tier players to sign with Miami; Steelers receiver Mike Wallace is believed to be atop the team’s wish list.
“I hope I’m invited to those dinners,” Hartline said Friday afternoon, just hours after becoming — for the time being, at least — the Dolphins’ highest-paid offensive player. “I think it’s important [to sign an elite receiver].
“You need to have at least four receivers that you can depend on, that are big playmakers to win in this league,” Hartline said. “The more playmakers you can have on a team, the more valuable the offense is going to be.”
MATT MOORE RETURNS
That’s Ireland’s mission for the next week. But he had more pressing concerns Thursday night. He wanted to hang onto the players he deemed essential to the Dolphins’ future. Ireland did that, at least in part, by locking down Hartline, and signing backup quarterback Matt Moore to a two-year deal worth a reported $8 million.
Though Hartline’s deal had been telegraphed for months, keeping Moore in Miami was more surprising.
The prevailing opinion was that Moore was the best option of an otherwise pedestrian group of free-agent quarterbacks. He said several times last season that he hoped for a chance at a starting job in 2013.
That opportunity apparently wasn’t available — even with the Jets or Cardinals, two of the worst passing teams in the league.
Moore said he decided to re-sign with the Dolphins after “doing some research” — presumably allowing his agent to gauge the interest of other teams.
“What it came down to [is] we got a deal done,” said Moore, who just two years ago was the Dolphins’ team MVP before losing a quarterback competition with Tannehill last summer. “It was something I wanted to happen, something I wanted to do.
“Whether you’re a starter or backup in this league, I looked at the opportunity as it needs to be the best fit, needs to be the right team,” he said. “To me, there was no other team out there that’s perfect. Myself and the Miami Dolphins fit perfectly together.”
Visibly relaxed and fresh off the golf course, Hartline said much of the same Friday.
‘I LIKE BEING HERE’
While some speculated that the Dolphins might have overpaid for a player with six career touchdowns, Hartline said he left money on the table. He could have made more, Hartline said, by hitting the open market. But it wasn’t about that — at least not entirely.
“I like being here,” Hartline said. “I’m a guy who’s going to lay it out every day and every Sunday. I wanted to be somewhere where they wanted me. Obviously, they want your production, but they want the players more than just the numbers. I thought that was the case here.”
Both deals were finalized late Thursday night, and the Dolphins announced them formally the following afternoon.
In a released statement, Ireland praised both players.
“Brian is an ascending player that has steadily improved over his first four years with the organization,” Ireland said. “He has represented himself positively both on the field and throughout the South Florida community.
“Matt has been a valuable contributor to the Dolphins ever since he arrived two seasons ago,” he said. “We are happy we were able to re-sign him, and we think he combines with Tannehill and Pat Devlin to give us an outstanding group of quarterbacks.”
Even after the moves, the Dolphins were still left with nine players free to negotiate with any other team beginning Saturday: Jake Long, Reggie Bush, Anthony Fasano, Nate Garner, Sean Smith, Chris Clemons, Tony McDaniel, Tyrone Culver, and Nate Kaeding.