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Free agent snapshot: Wide receiver Brian Hartline 02.16.13 at 12:39 am ET
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Brian Hartline had his first 1,000-yard season last year with the Dolphins. (AP)

Brian Hartline had his first 1,000-yard season last year with the Dolphins. (AP)

We’ve already touched on the possibility of Ed Reed as a potential Patriot here, but when free agency begins, there are a handful of less-heralded players who could appeal to New England as well. Over the next week, we’ll look at five relatively under-the-radar possibilities for the Patriots to consider when free agency opens early next month. Again, we have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. On Monday, we looked at Desmond Bryant. Tuesday, it was Mike DeVito. Wednesday, we featured Danny Amendola. Thursday, it was Brent Grimes. And we close it out with Brian Hartline:

BRIAN HARTLINE
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (will turn 27 on November 22)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 199 pounds

The skinny: On a team that didn’t have many dependable options in the passing game, Hartline really managed to distinguish himself as a dependable presence for Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, finishing the 2012 season with 74 catches for 1,083 yards (both career highs) and a touchdown. That came on the heels of him missing all of training camp and preseason with a calf injury — and that was after Hartline needed an emergency appendectomy in which he told NFL.com that he lost 25 pounds in the process. Hartline, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of Ohio State, heads into free agency with a leg up — while he won’t command elite money, he’s in line for a handsome payday.

By the numbers: Hartline was the only pass catcher in the league who finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards (1,083), but only one touchdown. The only other wide pass catcher who was close was Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who had 1,039 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Why it would work: As we noted when it came to our profile of Danny Amendola, the Patriots’ wide receiver corps is in a state of flux right now with only three receivers under contract for the 2013 season (Brandon Lloyd, Kamar Aiken and Matt Slater), and Hartline could be a part of a new generation of pass catchers in New England. If he did sign with the Patriots, a lot would depend on how the rest of the offseason played out, but he would likely project as a No. 2 receiver in the New England offense.

Why it might not work: Hartline is apparently looking for an annual salary in the $5 million to $6 million range, which might price the Patriots out of the market. (One report said he was looking for Laurent Robinson money: something comparable to the five-year, $32.5 million deal Robinson signed with the Jags last offseason.) That, combined with the fact that the Dolphins have a colossal amount of dough — Miami is approximately $42 million under the cap, one of the best situations in the league — means the Dolphins have the money to burn when it come to this offseason.

Quote: “You [bleeping] me?” — Hartline on finding out from a reporter than he finished a September game against the Cardinals with 253 receiving yards

Our take: When it comes to following in Wes Welker’s footsteps, there’s a obviously compelling argument as Danny Amendola being Welker, Version 2.0. But while Hartline isn’t a slot guy, he also has one big Welkerish quality: the fact that he’s a relatively underappreciated pass-catcher who managed to put up big numbers as the No. 1 option in the passing game for a Miami team that missed out on the postseason. Of course, Welker was able to get to the next level when he left Miami for New England prior to the start of the 2007 season. If the Patriots feel like Hartline is a similar diamond-in-the-rough type of receiver who is ready to bust out on a bigger stage, they should make a play for him. (One thing to remember — Hartline is repped by Drew Rosenhaus, and while the popular misconception is that Rosenhaus is a hard-liner who doesn’t get along with anyone around the league, he actually has a good relationship with the Patriots. New England has had several happy Rosenhaus clients on the roster over the years, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive lineman Donald Thomas.)

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Dolphins OT Jonathan Martin: Patriots ‘will probably do some damage in the playoffs’ 12.30.12 at 11:53 pm ET
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Stevan Ridley and the Patriots left an impression on the Dolphins. (AP)

Stevan Ridley and the Patriots left an impression on the Dolphins. (AP)

FOXBORO — For some of the Dolphins players, it’s getting a little old watching the Patriots dance their way into the playoffs each year, while they sit on the outside looking in.

The Patriots earned the No. 2 overall seed in the AFC with a 28-0 drubbing of the Dolphins in Foxboro on Sunday and a Texans loss to the Colts, which means a first-round bye is upcoming. The next time the Patriots take the field, they will play host to either the Texans, Ravens or Colts on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

The Dolphins head back to South Florida empty-handed, with a 7-9 overall record and a shutout in the final regular-season game of 2012.

Wide receiver Brian Hartline, when asked how badly he wants a winning record, seemed to sum up the season after Sunday’s beating perfectly.

“Winning record? I want to be in the playoffs. I don’t care what it takes,” he said.

For the Patriots, the road to the Super Bowl becomes a little less busy with a free Wild Card weekend. With the additional week to prepare for one of three teams, they can take time to heal injuries and get some rest.

Rookie Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots make some headway into the playoffs.

“You know, they are a good team,” he said. “That’s the reason they got a first-round bye and will probably do some damage in the playoffs. … They are a talented unit and they were just doing a good job of making plays [today].”

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Quarterback Mike Hartline goes from one Hall of Famer tutor to another 05.14.12 at 12:34 pm ET
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Mike Hartline (WEEI.com photo)

FOXBORO — When he first joined the Patriots as a free agent in March, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (who spent five seasons with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis), joked that when it comes to working with quarterbacks, he has a “very strict Hall of Famer-only policy.”

Mike Hartline can make the same tongue-in-cheek boast. The quarterback, a Kentucky product, spent last season as an understudy working with Manning and the Colts. Now, after signing with the Patriots in January, he’s doing the same thing with Tom Brady.

“Every player is different. Obviously, those guys are both arguably two of the best ever, so when you can get to work with them and to talk to them a little bit, you try to pick their brain,” Hartline said of Manning and Brady.

“They’re leagues beyond where I’m at. To try to dig too deep can get confusing sometimes. So you try to go at your own pace, you do your own style and hopefully, the things you do, show with the coaches and you get an opportunity to stick around.”

Hartline, who took part in Patriots rookie minicamp this past week at Gillette Stadium (it was OK because he hasn’t spent six games or more games on a team’s active, inactive or reserve list), said that to this point, Brady has been “nothing but supportive” since he joined the franchise earlier this year.

“But at the end of the day, I have to work by myself,” said Hartline, who passed for 3,178 yards with 23 touchdowns as a senior at Kentucky. “I have to go out there and try and do everything that I can in order to get an opportunity to be a part of something special. But he’s been great. A real nice guy. I look forward to working with him.”

Hartline is well aware of his situation: right now, he’s fourth on a depth chart that includes Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. However, has a couple of things in his favor: First, he’s the brother of Brian Hartline, who has spent the last three seasons in the NFL (two of them as a fairly regular starter) as a wide receiver with the Dolphins. Thanks to his brother, he already has some insight as to what to expect at the professional level.

“We look to each other more of moral support, I want to say. We never really try to tell each other how to play, or what to be like,” Hartline said of his brother. “Just to mentally stay positive. Sometimes things won’t go your way. To have a guy like that to be a support system is really beneficial.”

He also stood to benefit from his situation: He was the only quarterback on the roster (among the invited players) at camp, and so he got plenty of work in practice situations. In addition, he was also to benefit from more individual coaching, as the numbers at camp were far less than what they might be during the regular season, and more conducive to one-on-one coaching.

“I was excited when they said I could do it,” Hartline said of the opportunity to take part. “I wasn’t sure with rules if I could or not, but I’m happy that I am. I’m learning a lot every day. Obviously, with CBA rules, it’s a little bit difficult to get more time in than you can with you coach, but I try to put in the extra time — come early, stay late. And do everything I can to be ready for the next step.”

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