The Cleveland Browns are shedding almost all evidence of the previous front office regime and continued that trend Monday. Receiver Brian Hartline was the latest player to be released, paving the way for the team to groom the five receivers they selected in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Hartline signed a two-year deal worth $6 million back in 2015 to leave the Dolphins for Cleveland, but an unproductive 2015 campaign ending in a broken collarbone sealed his fate. After the team looked to overhaul their receiver position with he and Dwayne Bowe last year, both are now looking for jobs.
The Cincinnati Bengals already grabbed one discarded Browns player in Karlos Dansby, who should help immediately, so might they look at another? After all, the team does still have question marks at wide receiver behind A.J. Green, so would another veteran addition make sense?
Why it makes sense:
Veteran Presence: Behind Green, Brandon Tate and Brandon LaFell, most of the back end of the receiver depth chart is filled with players who are wet behind the ears. Tate hasn't been a reliable regular season pass-catcher for the Bengals in his five seasons in Cincinnati and LaFell is coming off of a disappointing campaign himself, so if there is an issue with production and/or grasping of the offense by the youngsters, having another veteran could ease the transition.
Good Production Somewhat Recently: Hartline started to taste a little bit of stardom when he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2012 and 2013. While his production has dipped in the two years since, he has two more of those types of milestone receiving seasons in his career than LaFell, who has zero in his own previous six seasons.
Probably Cheap: Because of the recent dip in his production, coupled with LaFell's team-friendly, one-year deal for $2.5 million, Hartline won't command a big contract. It may not be for the veteran minimum, but a team should be able to structure one with incentives at an all-around low cost.
Versatility: The reason the Bengals like both LaFell and Tyler Boyd is their ability to work out of the slot and outside. It sounds like Boyd will get more of the slot work than LaFell in 2016, but Hartline could provide a nice bridge if the team doesn't feel their second round pick is ready for a big NFL workload.
Ancillary Items Appealing to Hartline: Whether it's playing geographically near where he starred in college at Ohio State, playing for a contender, or not having to move across the country for his next gig, Hartline should be reasonably easy for the Bengals to obtain, if they wish.
Why it doesn't make sense:
Recent Production Dip: After the back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Hartline has 997 receiving yards and four touchdowns over the past two seasons. He was injured at the end of 2015 and Cleveland experienced quarterback issues last year, but he did play with Ryan Tannehill in Miami two seasons ago. In 16 games that year, Hartline only amassed 474 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Hindering the Youth's Development and Positional Crowding: Many fans are eager to see what this offseason has in store for Boyd, Jake Kumerow, James Wright and Mario Alford. The potential is high for these guys, though the output has been low, but a veteran addition like Hartline would almost certainly show one of these guys the door out of Cincinnati.
Is Hartline Really an Upgrade?: The mystery surrounding the young guys at receiver clouds the answer to this question, but at this point in his career, the former Buckeye isn't a game-breaker. He'd likely have more success on a more stacked team like the Bengals than he did with the lowly 2015 Browns squad, but he isn't a clear upgrade to at least the top three receivers in the unit. His role would be more of a transitional band-aid than anything.
What's the Mileage?: On one hand, Hartline won't be 30-years-old until late in the season and he's only missed eight games in his career. On the other hand, he does already have seven years under his belt and is coming off of a broken collarbone, forcing him to miss four of those eight games in the overall time span. Is he almost done in the NFL, or can he find a niche with a contender as a No. 3 or 4 option as a chain-mover?
Perhaps the most logical approach for the Bengals is to put the feelers out there, but wait and see what transpires in forthcoming OTAs and training camp. Conversely, it could also make sense for the team to bring him in now as another body, but then you risk taking away developmental snaps from guys who need them. The signing would be in line with some of the others they have made this year in the Dansby/LaFell mold,and one likes to see them be proactive by doing what they feel is necessary to field a championship team, but Hartline is kind of a wild card at this point, in terms of what he can bring in 2016.
What do you think about the Bengals potentially signing Brian Hartline to the team?