When the Miami Dolphins signed free agent wide receiver Brandon Gibson to a three-year, $9.8 million deal during the 2013 offseason, the organization did so with the intention that Gibson would serve as the team’s slot receiver over the next three seasons.
Gibson was a part of the infamous free agent signing class that brought WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe and LB Philip Wheeler to South Florida. It was also the offseason where the franchise re-signed starting receiver Brian Hartline.
When receiver Rishard Matthews was drafted in the seventh round with the 227th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, he was drafted with the hope that he’d make it to the practice squad — or in the best-case scenario, show just enough to make it to the roster as a special teams player.
Fast forward to 2014, and although Gibson will enter training camp as the No. 3 receiver for the second straight season, Matthews has a shot at unseating the five-year veteran as the team’s slot receiver.
Both players played the slot role in 2013 — Gibson was the team’s No. 3 receiver from Weeks 1-7 until he tore his patellar tendon against the New England Patriots 10 snaps into their Week 7 game. Following Gibson’s season-ending injury, Matthews took over as the team’s slot receiver for the final 10 games of the season, and he blossomed.
Matthews had 41 receptions, 36 of which came in the final 11 games of the season after Gibson’s injury. Matthews’ highlight game of the season was in a Week 9 loss on Monday Night Football in which Matthews caught 11 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Of the receiver’s 41 catches on the season, 26 went for first downs.
Up until Gibson’s season-ending injury, the veteran receiver illustrated why Miami gave him a three-year contract in the offseason. Gibson had 30 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns through just seven games.
While Matthews is a more athletic receiver, Gibson is a move-the-chains-type of possession receiver. Predicting a scenario where Matthews and Gibson do compete in training camp for the No. 3 receiver role in the Dolphins’ offense, their contracts will come into play. Matthews is owed just $583,403 in 2014 and $673,403 in 2015. Gibson has a salary cap hit of about $3.7 million in 2014 and $4.3 million in 2015.
Though the Dolphins have nearly $17 million in cap space available at the moment according to Overthecap.com, if Matthews beats out Gibson for the slot receiver position, it wouldn’t come as a shock if Miami were to part ways with Gibson before the season started.
If the team releases Gibson in 2014, it would result in a dead money hit of $2 million, $1 million each during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The bottom-line is this: Both receivers excelled in the slot receiver role during the 2013 season. There is little doubt that the competition for the team’s slot receiving position will be fierce during training camp and the preseason between Gibson and Matthews. The battle between Gibson and Matthews for the slot role will be one of the team’s top positional battles during training camp.