"It feels great to know hard work and perseverance is worth something. But now, it's about winning games," Hartline told Darlington. "I'm excited to see what happens in free agency. We want to win. We're set up so we have cap room to make some moves, and that's one way we can win football games."
Hartline is coming off a breakout season in his first year with head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, but it should be noted roughly one-quarter of his 1,083 yards as well as his lone touchdown came in one game against an Arizona Cardinals secondary that suffered uncharacteristic blown coverages in an overtime shootout.
That outlier aside, Hartline averaged four catches and 55 yards per week while topping 80 yards just once in the final seven games.
More and more, NFL executives are finding that this free-agent middle class hamstrings their efforts to field a competitive roster.
It's a steep price for a player who simply doesn't impact games by drawing double teams or consistently making big plays. Danario Alexander, signed off the streets just before Halloween, scored more touchdowns in two months with the San Diego Chargers than Hartline has recorded in 60 career games. Jordy Nelson, the player Hartline would be if he possessed comic-book super powers, signed for $13.989 million and $5 million guaranteed just a year and a half ago.
Stated more simply, why pay over $6 million annually for a No. 2 receiver when you can draft one at a fraction of the cost? The Indianapolis Colts will pay T.Y. Hilton less than $500,000 this season after the 92nd pick in the 2012 draft found the end zone more times as a rookie than Hartline has in his four-year career.