Had things worked out differently, Ed Dickson would be the Baltimore Ravens’ starting tight end, preparing to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London this week and rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Instead, Dickson will start his first game as the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 tight end Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, filling in for his friend and teammate, Greg Olsen, who will miss at least eight weeks with a broken foot.
Before Olsen went down in the second quarter last week against Buffalo, Dickson’s role in Carolina was much as it was in Baltimore – where he was a behind-the-scenes blocker and sometimes pass-catcher playing behind a well-paid starter in Dennis Pitta.
One major difference: Here he feels respected.
“That’s why I love it here,” Dickson said this week. “Even though I don’t get a chance to catch 60 passes, they appreciate what I do here.”
Dickson still might not get a chance to pull down 60 receptions. But his role will increase, although he says he’s always been one of the offense’s “key pieces” since he arrived in Charlotte in 2014.
“They move me (across the formation), protecting Cam (Newton), blocking for (Jonathan Stewart),” Dickson said. “They let go of fullbacks for a reason, because I can do some of those things.”
Olsen has emerged as one of the league’s top pass-catching tight end the last three years, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Dickson tallied a total of 370 receiving yards over that same span.
Yet, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton called Dickson a “diamond in the rough,” and said Dickson’s selflessness has not gone unnoticed in the Panthers’ locker room.
“Let’s face it, this is an ego-driven league. You don’t see guys like Ed Dickson no more, where he understands his role,” Newton said. “He’s capable of being more on another team, but he just accepts it and he’s appreciated here.”
Out of favor
Dickson says that was not the case in Baltimore, where he caught 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns – all career highs – in 2011.
But Dickson fell out of favor a bit during the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning season of 2012, when Pitta became Joe Flacco’s favorite tight end target.
Despite a history of hip problems that forced him into an early retirement, the Ravens signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million extension before the 2014 season. Dickson says he turned down a lowball offer from the Ravens that same year and wound up agreeing to a one-year contact from the Panthers for the veteran minimum.
Dickson claims the Ravens “force-fed” the ball to Pitta in part because of his relationship with Flacco. But Dickson says he has no issues with Pitta, whom he called a friend.
“I blame it on the coordinator and the head coach and everybody that didn’t see what they had,” Dickson said. “They could have at least had two great tight ends there for years to come.
“They could’ve split it down the middle and said, you know what, we can have two good guys. When they paid Dennis that money, we basically had identical stats.”
A different role
Dickson has never complained about his role with the Panthers, who have used him primarily as a blocker and lined him up at fullback occasionally.
“I’ve never been a guy that wants all the credit,” Dickson said. “I’d rather not take the credit and we win the Super Bowl than to take all the credit and have 60 catches and we’re out in the first round of the playoffs.”
Saints linebacker A.J. Klein, who played his first four seasons in Carolina, said Dickson has been overlooked at his position.
“You look back at what he did at Baltimore, he caught a lot of balls. Ed’s a big, strong guy and has better speed than most people think,” Klein said. “I could anticipate Ed filling in where Greg was. I don’t anticipate there really being much of a difference because I know Ed’s a great athlete and he’s a great player.”
Dickson, the only Panthers player with a Super Bowl ring, signed a three-year extension worth $6.1 million before the 2015 season. He’ll be a free agent after this season, and says he’d love to stay with the Panthers and buy a house in Dilworth.
But he says his contract is not his main focus. He’s more concerned about making the most of a rare opportunity to be the guy.
And while he probably won’t put up Olsen-like numbers, Dickson isn’t ruling anything out.
“If I get the opportunity, don’t be surprised,” he said. “Because I won’t be surprised. I know what I can do.”