Brian Hartline finds a shady table at one of his favorite outdoor spots on Las Olas Boulevard and surveys the landscape through Ray-Ban sunglasses before diving into his lunch.
The warm sun and cool breeze are a perfect partnership this day. Hartline, in worn jeans and a cotton T-shirt, is all smiles. Life is good for the Miami Dolphins wide receiver.
But the next few weeks threaten uncertainty.
The next few weeks for the Dolphins will be about studying a 2014 season that did not meet anyone’s hopes. The next few weeks will be about forming a plan for 2015.
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The Dolphins will take stock and figure out how to press on. The club has been deciding whether coaches stay or go. Decisions will eventually be made which players will remain and which won’t.
And Hartline recognizes he could be affected.
“I understand anytime a business or a team goes through transition, which we are — I mean let’s face it, we’re 8-8 the past two years and it’s not good enough — then everything is up for discussion,” Hartline says.
The Dolphins have to make decisions about the men in their wide receiver room. Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Hartline are well paid and are scheduled to be that again in 2015.
So will all three be back?
If so, will pay cuts be in the offing? If not, who goes?
“I understand there’s a business side,” Hartline says. “So when there is transition, you have to find out if you’re part of that transition or you’re not. Because of that, there’s probably a little bit of unrest that’s new to me that I haven’t experienced before.”
Hartline says he wants to remain with the Dolphins. He still believes in the team’s future.
“Absolutely,” he says. “That’s why I signed back here two years ago. If I didn’t believe in this organization, I would have moved on. There were monetary opportunities other places as there were here, but I believed in our goal and our direction.”
But with the club’s direction now blurred, agents across the country will go to Mobile for Senior Bowl practices in 10 days to seek clarity from general manager Dennis Hickey, coach Joe Philbin and recently hired executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum.
Hartline’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, will make the trip to find out the team’s plan for his client. And although Hartline will not discuss publicly whether or not he would be open to a pay cut — which is an obvious possibility — he says Rosenhaus will be ready to give the Dolphins that answer if it comes up.
That’s a fair approach. My expectation is the Dolphins also should be ready.
Yes, the team has undergone some change recently but Tannenbaum has been around for a season and Hickey is a man of conviction.
This shouldn’t be a problem.
“I just hope everything is communicated efficiently, effectively and not drawn out,” Hartline says. “I hope I can quickly get to a point where I’m thinking about winning football games for the Miami Dolphins instead of thinking about the business side of things that sometimes cloud judgment.”
There should be no clouded judgment here. If the Dolphins are run efficiently, they should know their plan and be able to share it with players or their agents reasonably quickly.
In Hartline’s case, all he wants is clarity. He wants to know if he’s part of the plan. And if he’s not, he wants the ability to get to free agency when it begins so he can find work elsewhere.
Hartline says it’s about good communication. I say it’s also about respect.
And showing a two-time 1,000-yard receiver the respect of removing doubt from his mind sooner rather than later is the right thing to do.
“I think I’ve earned that respect,” Hartline says. “I feel like I’ve always done what’s been asked of me. I’ve kept my mouth shut. I did my job. And I did it to the best of my ability. I think that should earn you respect.”
However, there could be a problem.
The collective bargaining agreement allows teams making salary-cap decisions latitude on the timing of those decisions. Teams can cut players before June1 and gain some cap relief. Or they can cut players after June1 and often get greater cap relief in the short term.
But waiting until after June1 is often a financial helmet to the knee for players because that comes after the draft and the early days of free agency when other teams have more cap space and are more willing to sign someone.
That could put Hartline in a tough spot.
“I know the stipulations of June1 and what that means for myself and other players,” Hartline says. “All I can say is I have a lot of respect for the organization, and I hope in turn they have a lot of respect for me and how I’ve gone about my business here.”