With the news coming down late last night that Dolphins WR Brian Hartline was going to re-sign with the Dolphins on a contract that would pay him $30.775 million with $12.5 million guaranteed there was an immediate reaction that he was overpaid. Granted we all can agree that Hartline is probably a mid-tier wideout but lets examine if he is or is not overpaid.
I think the most off the wall comparison I read this morning was that Hartline can’t be paid this much money because he isn’t as good as Jordy Nelson, who works on a contract worth only $4.2 million a year. The argument is that Nelson went off for over 1200 yards in 2011 and has caught 22 Tds in the last two years. The problem is that Nelson wasn’t signed this year. Nelson was signed after he played 3 years and a handful of games. In the 2 years prior to his $4.2 million dollar extension he averaged 451 yards and 2 touchdowns a season. He only played 3 games in 2011 prior to signing his extension and averaged around 67 yards a game. Rather than roll the dice Nelson signed a contract that was reflective of his 451 yards a year with upside potential. He probably kicks himself every day for signing the deal while the Packers are laughing their way to the bank. So lets just get him out of the equation. He has no significance.
The two players who we want to look at are Robert Meachem of the Chargers and Laurent Robinson of the Jaguars. Neither player was regarded as a true number 1, though maybe some people get fooled into thinking that they could be, and would represent the high water mark for number 2 players. First lets just look at the basic 2 year averages for the players (Normally I do 3 but for the sake of time Im cutting off at 2 this week):
Just the basic stats more or less paint Hartline as the most productive of the 3 players from a yardage and catch perspective. His one negative is the fact that he does not score touchdowns. That’s clearly a big negative, but I think we can all agree he certainly belongs in this group. Now let’s go deeper into the numbers where we look at what contribution the player made to the WR corps. over the course of the two seasons prior to signing a contract.
Team Adjusted Stats
For those new to my writings one of the things I like to do is break a player down into contribution to the actual WR corps of the team he played for. I want to see what percentage of the team targets he sees and yards he accounts for. I feel these metrics help sort out who maybe benefits from a team while others are hurt by the team they play for. These are the two year stats
These numbers paint Hartline as the clear superior performer of the group. The only category that makes Robinson stand out is touchdowns where he played the role of a home run hitter, specifically in Dallas. The numbers debunk a bit of the issue with the Hartline touchdowns. Did he only score 2? Absolutely but you have to put it in context. Miami’s passing game has been so poor that WRs have accounted for a grand total of 13 touchdowns in the last two years. He one score did actually represent 33% of the teams total in 2012. That doesn’t justify it being good but it at least gives more reason why its not around 4 or 5 a year. Slightly more passes have been picked off that were headed Hartline’s way.
The other thing to note, which is not shown on the chart, is that Hartline’s catch rate is around the expectation for WRs in the offense he plays in. Meachem’s was also around average for the offense which eliminates his best basic stat advantage. Robinsons was worse than others on his team, but that was primarily due to his final season as a Ram where he caught less than 50% of his targets.
So I think its fair that we can say Hartline certainly belongs in this category of player. I don’t really recall people going too overboard when these players signed with their new teams last year.
Guar. Per Year
Now we can not totally compare these contracts because we don’t know how much of Hartlines money is fully guaranteed nor do we know the payment and dead money structures to really compare what is and what is not a stronger deal , but these numbers give us a basic valuation. For those interested Meachem’s deal is much stronger than Robinsons. Meachem will likely miss out on 45% of his contract value while Robinson will miss out on over 57%. Meachem will earn $14 million while Robinson only $13.8 million in the first two years of their deals at which point they are easily cut. Meachem also gave himself a faster path to free agency had he been a success, which makes it a knockout even with the lower APY. Back to Hartline…
For those insinuating he got an unreasonable contract, they are simply not looking at the numbers or the market in any kind of reasonable context. If anything he gave the Dolphins a discount for his services unless you want to consider touchdowns being that important. Robinson’s contract came off one breakout year just like Hartline’s. Meachem never had one there was just an assumption that will less other targets on a team his numbers would go up. They didn’t.
So there is almost no logical reason to say the Dolphins overpaid if we are looking at market values and performance at time of signing. You can argue that players like Hartline fall back to earth like these others did but if that’s the argument you just don’t sign the player period. Its not like 200-400 yards is worth a dime in todays pass happy league. Players are almost always going to sign for around what the market will bear. To expect Hartline to have signed for less than $4 million a season because Jordy Nelson did coming off two more or less non-descript seasons is just not realistic.
Looking closer at these two contracts for Hartline to actually get a strong deal he is going to have to make more than $14 million in cash in the first two years of the contract. I’d argue that he should make at least $15 million to be properly placed with the other two players. Considering Miami has intentions of signing a better player which puts Hartline in a clear number 2 role it will probably result in better performance than the other two players gave their teams where I think they were expected to carry more of the burden.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.