DAVIE — Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline admits he was "kind of curious" about his value as a free agent on the open market. But his curiosity didn't get very far.
Hartline bypassed free agency Friday, signing a five-year, $30.7 million contract ($12.5 million guaranteed) to remain with the Dolphins. Hartline said free agency would have been more "lucrative" but he said taking less money is an indication of his excitement about the team's future.
"It just shows how much more important it is for me to be in this organization and be in South Florida, and what we're growing, than it is to just chase the top dollar," he said.
It was a similar story for backup quarterback Matt Moore, who signed a two-year, $8 million deal to return to the Dolphins. Moore, regarded among the league's best backups, opted not to become a free agent and pursue a starting job with another team.
"I think this team is definitely going places," he said. "There's big things to come and I didn't want to miss out."
Free agents can begin talking to other teams at 4 p.m. Saturday. They can sign contracts at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Dolphins will have roughly $30 million to spend in free agency after placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Randy Starks, and re-signing Hartline and Moore.
Bush, Smith and Long are all near the top of the free-agent crop at their respective positions. Most likely the Dolphins will allow other teams to set the price for those guys and decide whether it's fiscally responsible to re-sign them.
It's doubtful any of the three return, and that might also be the case for Clemons. That means the Dolphins could lose four starters through free agency. Fasano and right tackle Nate Garner are the other starters who are unrestricted free agents.
If both Smith and Clemons depart the Dolphins will have to rebuild their secondary. If both Long and Garner depart the Dolphins will have to rebuild their offensive line.
Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland will be under close scrutiny during this free agency period and might be fighting for his job. Miami has four consecutive losing seasons in his five years.
The general feeling is there's almost no excuse for the Dolphins, who were 7-9 last year, to have another losing season.
Hartline and Moore both seem to think the team has paid its dues.
"Now that we've had those growing pains, it's a foundation and you can grow from that," Hartline said.
Hartline is coming off the best season of his career, recording 74 receptions for 1,083 yards and one touchdown. He said he had "good feeling" about how much he could have made with another team. But staying with the Dolphins was the key.