Brian Hartline was born and raised in Canton and attended GlenOak High School. He’s well-versed in Cleveland sports and their misery.
That explains his mindset when he visited the Browns last week.
“To be frank, when I came up to Cleveland, it was kind of a, ‘Yeah, Cleveland, let’s go check it out,’ kind of thing,” Hartline, a receiver, said Tuesday on a conference call. “I didn’t expect a whole lot. When I got there, I was really pleasantly surprised.”
Hartline was particularly impressed with the facility, coach Mike Pettine, first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and first-year receivers coach Joker Phillips. Hartline agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract Monday, and it became official Tuesday.
“Everything was really a good experience,” he said. “I sort of pictured myself in the situation and it just felt right. At some point, your gut is just kind of there and it was one place that I was definitely interested in being.”
Hartline had interest from multiple teams and said the decision was between the Browns and Super Bowl-champion Patriots.
“In the end, I rely on my agent with numbers and everything else, but it was close,” he said. “That wasn’t a front, they were one of the teams.”
While the Patriots have won four Super Bowls with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the Browns haven’t won a playoff game since 1994 — under Belichick. Pettine’s 7-9 as a head coach, and likely starting quarterback Josh McCown is 17-32 as a starter.
“I guess there is a point where the past is the past,” said Hartline, who went to Ohio State. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s all about seeing the future and where things are going. That’s what is most important. I’m not going to choose a place based off of where they’ve been.
“I believed in the vision in Cleveland. I believed in where they wanted to head. To me, again from an outside point of view, I remember a 7-4 football team. I look at a defense that is really well put-together. I look at an offensive line that is really well put-together, if not top in the league.
Those are your building points. Hopefully, I can do my part and be a part of the receiving room, come in and compete and raise the level of expectations.”
Hartline, 28, played six years for Miami after being selected in the fourth round in 2009. He’s been a starter for five years and has 298 career catches for 4,243 yards, a 14.2 average and 12 touchdowns.
He started all 16 games last year, catching 39 passes for 474 yards, a 12.2 average and two touchdowns. His best two years were 2012 and ’13, when he totaled 150 receptions for 2,099 yards and five touchdowns.
He was released Feb. 27 because the Dolphins didn’t want to pay him the $5.9 million he was due.
The Browns were eager to pick him up. They have huge holes at receiver, and Hartline is an established producer who is expected to take a starting job. He said nothing had been promised.
“No, my role at this point is to come in and compete as much as possible, be a good example in the receiving room, help anybody out if I can but also to compete at a high level,” he said. “It’s important to me to put myself in position to be a vital part of the offensive scheme and to really contribute as much as possible on the outside, whether it’s blocking or catching the football.”
The full-season suspension of former Pro Bowler Josh Gordon weakened an already suspect receiving corps. Before the Hartline signing, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin were the only receivers under contract who saw extended playing time last season.
Hartline (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) has the speed — he ran indoor track at Ohio State — and ability to line up outside and fits with Hawkins as Nos. 2 and 3 receivers.
“Brian is an excellent teammate,” general manager Ray Farmer said in the news release announcing the move. “He’s a crafty and savvy player with very good hands and is a precision route runner. He can win at all three levels.
“His size, hands and route running make for a good combination and he is going to help us at the position. We are happy to be able to get him to our team.”
The Browns will likely make more moves at receiver. They could use a No. 1 wideout — possibly in the first round with pick No. 12 or 19 — who would provide the size missing from the group.
The other half of the passing equation is quarterback. Hartline said he talked to the Browns about their plans.
“We’ve got a great veteran pro’s pro in Josh McCown, and I think a lot of his game,” Hartline said. “If anything, he’s looking for a place that there can be some consistency to be around and win. That’s what he’s about. We’ve talked a handful (of times).
“I know that the coaching staff is very interested in creating a competition at that position.”
Of his 298 catches, only 12 went for touchdowns. He’d like to see a bump in that stat.
“Anytime you get into the red zone, every offensive coordinator, every offense has its own plan,” Hartline said. “I would say overall, I am looking to work myself into a plan to be more involved, get more targets in that area and really help the team execute down in that zone.
“I think I am pretty sure-handed and anything in my area I am going to bring in. I am not really worried about the past. I am more worried about proving myself and really getting into a situation where I am more involved in the red zone.”
Hartline called Pettine “a man’s man.” Pettine returned the compliment.
“Brian is a tough, smart football player with that innate ability to always get open,” Pettine said. “He is not only a good fit for our offense but for our entire football team.
“What impressed me about visiting with him was how passionate he was about playing here. He really wanted to be a Cleveland Brown.”
Hartline lived in Columbus during the offseason during his time with the Dolphins. The lure of home was strong.
“Home is Ohio for me, always has been and always will be,” Hartline said. “There’s a lot of ownership when it comes to community off the field and there’s a lot of ownership to the hometown team and I’m proud of being a part of it.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.