CHARLOTTE – A day after the Panthers' season came to a close, tight end Ed Dickson was among the first players to enter the locker room and among the last to exit.
"It's a sense of the journey coming to the end," he said.
Dickson was referring to the team's journey that ended with a narrow loss to the rival Saints in the NFC Wild Card round, but time will tell if it also refers to his journey with the Panthers.
"I'm in my contract year, so we'll have to see exactly what shakes out," Dickson said. "I'd love to be back and be a part of what we're building here toward a championship.
"I hope I've shown my craft and put out good numbers where I'll have a job; I'm not worried about a job. I would just like the stability of being able to stay here."
After being used mostly as a blocker, Dickson had an extended opportunity to show his value as a pass catcher in the final year of a three-year extension. With starter Greg Olsen sidelined nine games by a foot injury, Dickson took over the role and finished the season with 30 catches for 437 yards. His previous three years in Carolina, as Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Dickson totaled 27 catches for 370 yards.
"I came here knowing I had to take a back seat to a future Hall of Famer in my book, and I was OK with that," Dickson said. "But I did what I needed to do to be on the field, and our position coach looks at it as 1-A and 1-B.
"You have to be prepared for anything to happen, and that scenario happened this year. When it did, I didn't blink. I just went in and tried to fill in the best I could."
Dickson's season was highlighted by a record-setting performance in Week 5 victory at the Lions, when he amassed 175 receiving yards and became the first player in franchise history to post two 50-plus-yard catches in the same game.
"It was one of those days where we were locked into the zone," Dickson said. "Cam (Newton) found me a couple of extra times, and I just had to capitalize and prove to myself the type of player I still can be.
"I'm playing some of my best football right now. I'm excited about the next chapter. Wherever it leads me, I'm going to put my best foot forward."
The Panthers have valued the tight end position throughout the Ron Rivera era, trading for Olsen in 2011 and featuring quality second-stringers throughout, pass catchers like Jeremy Shockey and Gary Barnidge, blockers like Ben Hartsock and then for the past four years a versatile tight end in Dickson.
Dickson was a third-round draft choice by the Ravens in 2010. Carolina has selected just one tight end over the last nine NFL drafts – sixth-rounder Beau Sandland in 2016.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has used two tight ends for a significant number of snaps during his long coaching career, but it remains to be seen how he'll utilize the position in Carolina. That's one of several factors that could play into whether Dickson remains with the Panthers next season.
"I love this team. I respect this team. I would love to be back with this team and help this offense become that much better," Dickson said. "We have a couple of pieces we need to add, but with this type of defense we can definitely be back in the playoffs and be contenders."