Two seasons in with the Carolina Panthers, tight end Ed Dickson has experienced his two least-productive seasons, statistically speaking, in his career.
He has 27 catches, 236 yards and three touchdowns in those two years after averaging more in all categories in each of his four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
This can’t be what he signed up for, right?
“I think it is. I signed up to win a championship,” Dickson said at Wofford College, where the Panthers are holding training camp. “And we put ourselves in a position to win a championship. I’ve never been about personal stuff in my career. I wanted them to see the value I bring to the table.”
In his second year with the Ravens in 2011, Dickson caught 54 passes for 528 yards. For comparison, Greg Olsen had nine fewer catches and 12 more yards that same season.
Dickson played out of his three-year rookie deal and a one-year tender before deciding to hit free agency. He said the Ravens offered him a contract, but he wanted to bet on himself two years after winning a Super Bowl. He took a one-year deal with Carolina before the 2014 season for $795,000 – the league minimum for a player with his experience.
A strange season
Brought in to be Olsen’s backup, Dickson had a strange year. Fullback Mike Tolbert missed nearly half the season because of injury, and Dickson was forced to be more of a blocker. Rather than a No. 2 tight end option, Dickson was, at times, lined up at fullback to help protect Cam Newton.
He caught 10 passes for 115 yards – both numbers lower than his rookie season. But the Panthers still rewarded Dickson with a three-year deal worth $6.1 million.
“That’s when you look at guys like Coach Rivera and Dave Gettleman and they see the value in you,” Dickson said. “I didn’t have 60 catches that year, and the way they paid me was as one of the top backups in the league.”
Indeed, Dickson is the 36th-highest-paid tight end in the 32-team league in terms of average salary per year. Last season he managed slightly more receiving yards (121) as Olsen solidified himself as one of the top tight ends in the league.
The Panthers went on a tight end shopping spree this offseason. They have seven tight ends on their current roster, but Dickson is the clear No. 2. Scott Simonson, Beau Sandland, Marcus Lucas and Braxton Deaver are all competing for the No. 3 spot.
Except they shouldn’t think that way, Dickson said.
“My mentality is I’m trying to get Greg’s spot, and Greg shouldn’t be comfortable at the top,” Dickson said. “And all these other guys that are coming in, they should be thinking the same thing. If they’re thinking anything else then they’re not doing themselves justice.
“Come in here and thinking they’re just going for the third spot or just getting a roster spot, you’re just getting by.”
A spot in the offense
But where does the No. 2 tight end fit in Carolina’s diverse offensive scheme? There’s no reason to believe Greg Olsen won’t get his third-straight 1,000-yard season. Throw in the return of Kelvin Benjamin, the emergence of Devin Funchess and key roles for Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown, and there aren’t many slices left of the pie for Dickson.
“We got there (to the Super Bowl) last year and how do we make that fit again? How do I contribute more? How do I keep doing what I do and add more pieces to the pie? Everyone knows I want to be more involved in the passing game,” Dickson said. “But how’s that going to come? I’m not trying to take from the other people. There’s only one ball to go around.”
So he has to keep doing the dirty work in the blocking game. And when his number is called, he has to be ready.
That was the case in Carolina’s 38-0 home victory over Atlanta last season. Olsen suffered a minor knee injury and had to leave the game when the Panthers were 4 yards from the goal line.
Dickson replaced Olsen, and on the next play Newton hit Dickson with a laser for a touchdown just before halftime.
That’s what Dickson can offer, he says. If you want to run a two tight end set, he’s your guy. Need a block? Put him in. If Olsen goes down, you won’t miss a beat.
“Say I get 60 catches this year, it just exceeds the expectations,” Dickson said. “I know it’s within me to do it. There’s a positive way to look at everything and I look at it in a positive way. I’m trying to get that second ring. I’m trying to get Cam his first ring and a lot of guys their first ring.”