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Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins deep in contract talks

The free-agent wide-receiver market is rather top-heavy, especially with Dwayne Bowe accounted for.

It sounds like another potential starter might not make it to free agency.

NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Tuesday morning that the Dolphins and Brian Hartline are in deep talks to keep the receiver long term, according to a source involved in the talks. Nothing is imminent, but things could come together quickly.

Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com first reported the two sides are close to finalizing a deal. There are even numbers available: Hartline would earn between $6 million to $6.5 million per season. Taking Hartline off the market could help guys like Greg Jennings and Danny Amendola make more money in free agency, even though they have different skill sets than Hartline.

A reliable, big-bodied receiver who can get vertical, Hartline is a decent No. 2 wide receiver. But paying him more than $6 million smacks of desperation. Hartline has six career touchdowns and is a good -- not great -- starter. General manager Jeff Ireland hasn't found many homegrown talents and the team needs wideouts, but Hartline isn't a true difference maker. When $6 million per season is a team's "middle class" of players, it hurts the ability to get true top-tier talent.

The Dolphins still would need a No. 1 receiver after signing Hartline, who is a tricky player to evaluate because of a big 2012 campaign and a middling history of production before that. The Dolphins have a ton of cap space this year despite giving defensive tackle Randy Starks the franchise tag.

We don't think that signing Hartline would necessarily preclude them from going after Mike Wallace or other big-name free agents available.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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