I guarantee it would have been a lot less than he's going to get on the open market after a 1000 yard season. Also by extending them early you don't take the inflation hit that you will by waiting and you can sign him to a shorter contract than you would a normal free agent. You can even overpay them slightly at the time but in reality it works out better for the team in the end. The obvious risk is if the player turns into a complete disaster but we're paying Ireland the big bucks to make sure he extends the right guys.
It comes down to simple game theory. We now know what the ideal play was, whichever gm comes closest to making the ideal play wins. You don't think there are any gms out there that wouldn't have had the foresight to extend these guys at the right time?
so how much do u extend Hartline for early. I mean u sign him long term and he puts up 30-40 receptionms and 500 -600 yards and 1 td, now u are stuck way overpaying a guy that doesnt deserve it. I dont think any gm in the league would have extended hartline to much of a contract based on what he had done so far.