The Miami Dolphins began phase one of their free agency plan by signing some of their own unrestricted free agents to new contracts. The team announced new deals for starting wide reciever Brian Hartline and back up quarterback Matt Moore prior to the NFL's three day negotiating period with other teams UFA's which opens at midnight on Saturday.
Late Thursday night the Dolphins signed Hartline to a five year, $30.8 million deal with $12.5 million guaranteed making him Miami's highest paid offensive player. Since the end of the regular season, Hartline made it evidently clear he wanted to return to Miami and the feeling was mutual with the front office. Coming off a breakout year, Hartline has established himself as a viable number two reciever and would have been a top commodity on the open market. The 26 year old Ohio native isn't the deep threat the team is looking to add this offseason however he is a reliable pass catcher that developed great chemistry with Ryan Tannehill in the quarterback's rookie season. Working with Tannehill, Hartline posted the best stats of his four year career as he recorded 1,083 yards with one touchdown on 74 receptions.
While some might argue that Hartline is overpaid, he in fact took less money to stay in South Beach. The goal of this offseason is to ensure that Tannehill is in the best position to succeed in 2013 and this signing is the first step in achieveing that.
Unlike the Hartline deal, the re-signing of Matt Moore wasn't expected, especially after he expressed his desire to pursue a starting job with another NFL team. In the end, Moore felt that the Dolphins were the best fit for him and ultimately agreed to a two year deal worth $8 million to take him off the market. Although this move makes Moore the second highest paid back up quarterback in the league, it gives Miami the luxury of having depth at the most crucial position on the field. If the injury bug happens to hit Tannehill, the Dolphins will find comfort knowing that they have a player on the sidelines that is capable of making plays and winning games when called upon.
Based on the contract details released by the team, Hartline will make an annual salary of about $6.1 million and Moore will earn $4 million per season however, it appears as though the deals are structured in cap friendly manner. Taking into account both these contracts along with the $8.4 million that Randy Starks will make thanks in part to the franchise tag, the Dolphins will have roughly $30 million in cap space to work with once free agency is officially underway on March 12.
Entering the offseason with twelve unrestricted free agents, the Dolphins have now locked up three of them. Depending on how many more of their own players they chose to retain, Miami will have enough cap space to land at least two high profile free agents including the likes of Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Jared Cook or the recently released Eric Winston. They won't fill all their needs in free agency, the draft will be key if the team is to improve heading into next season.
Switching the focus back to Hartline, he is not being brought back to be the squad's top reciever for the second consecutive year. Instead he is just one piece of the offensive puzzle that is sure to undergo many changes from the core that took the field a few months ago. There is still a lot of work to be done.