2013 NFL free agents: Brian Hartline tops second-tier receiver options

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Hartline is set to test the free agent market for the first time in his NFL career, and is coming off a career year in 2012.

Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins made a calculated effort last offseason to improve Miami's offense -- as evidenced by the Dolphins selecting Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the draft. The results weren't quite there for Miami in 2012, as the Dolphins boasted the No. 26 passing attack in the league. There were positives, though, as Tannehill developed an on-field relationship with Brian Hartline -- who is now ticketed for free agency.

Hartline enjoyed a career year in 2012, setting career-highs in receptions (74), targets (128), yards (1,083), and first downs (48). Tannehill clearly relied on Hartline, throwing Hartline's way 24 more times than any other Dolphins receiver (Davone Bess was second on Miami with 104 targets).

Not only did Hartline lead the team in receptions, targets and yards, but he also had the most receptions over 20 yards, and also averaged more yards per reception than any other Dolphin (minimum 20 receptions).

Whether or not Hartline stays in Miami past 2012, he's already etched his name into Miami's record books. Hartline broke Miami's single-game receiving yards record in Week 4, when he caught 12 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.

Hartline didn't turn many heads at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a respectable, yet unspectacular, 4.52-40. At 6'2, 199 pounds, however, a 4.52-40 is more than respectable, and certainly adequate.

Miami eventually drafted Hartline in the fourth round of the draft, and since then he's worked his way up Miami's depth chart at wide receiver. Hartline started just two games in his rookie season, but started 11, 10 and 15 games in each of the last three seasons, and emerged as Miami's top wide receiver after the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall.

The Dolphins appear interested in retaining Hartline -- and may even reach a deal with the wide receiver before free agency opens. According to a FOX Sports report, the Dolphins and Hartline are close to finalizing a contract that would pay the former Ohio State receiver about $6 million annually.

If contract talks fall apart between the two parties, then Hartline will test the open market when free agency opens on March 12. Hartline could draw plenty of interest around the league, as there are quite a few teams in the market for wide receivers.

Hartline could draw interest from the New England Patriots, who are looking to beef up their wide receiver corps. The Patriots are reportedly likely to move on from Brandon Lloyd, and need to upgrade at wide out.

The Bengals could also have interest in Hartline. Cincinnati has the most amount of cap space available of any team in free agency this season, and could excel opposite A.J. Green.

Entering his age 27 season in 2013, Hartline is set to enter his prime, and should continue to develop as a very good wide receiver -- no matter where he ends up.

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