It wasn’t an unexpected move, so there was no furor this week when reports emerged that Greg Olsen and the Panthers had “mutually agreed” to part ways. Just a day or two earlier there had been reports that Fox Sports was prepared to offer him a job whenever he was done playing football; this coming after he’d worked as an analyst on a couple of games during bye weeks in the last two seasons.
Now that his departure from the Panthers seems to be a fait accompli, there has been a swirl of speculation about what might be next for the 34 year old. He could very well retire from football and begin what is expected to be a long and successful second career as a game analyst, presumably with Fox.
But if Olsen feels as if his playing days aren’t quite finished, he shouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding a team interested in his services, and, due to his long relationship with Ron Rivera and Washington’s gaping roster hole at TE, the Redskins appear to be the odds-on favorite to sign Olsen if he returns to the field in 2020.
There are likely three concerns that fans would have about Olsen:
Olsen broke his foot in 2017 and missed 9 games. In 2018, he re-injured it, missing another 7 games. This, after signing a 2-year, $17m extension prior to the ‘18 season.
Olsen was having a healthy 2019 season right up until he caught a huge hit in the side of his helmet from Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson — one that knocked Olsen out (literally) and kept him out of the next two games.
Interestingly, Fansided actually declared Olsen’s season “over” after the concussion-inducing hit from Anderson, and began speculating about whether he would return to play in 2020. The fact that Olsen came back to play two meaningless games once he’d cleared the protocol may speak to his desire to continue playing — or it could speak to his desire not to end his playing career with the play against the Redskins... one in which he was knocked unconscious and fumbled the football.
Honestly, I think the concerns over Olsen’s health may be overblown. For ten years of his career, Olsen played in 158 of a possible 160 regular season games. Then he lost 16 games over two seasons to the same foot injury, but came back for what would have been a full season in 2019 if not for a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit from Anderson.
Once a player starts planning for his post-playing career, it’s easy to question his commitment to continuing as a player. For Redskins fans who’ve seen the Josh Norman off-season show that has featured dancing and bull jumping (among other pursuits), there may be a bit of discomfort in signing a player who appears to be so close to hanging up his cleats.
Greg Olsen was among the game’s elite tight ends from 2014-2016. In the six seasons from 2014 to 2019 Olsen’s cap hit averaged $7.6m per year. He was set to count for $11.8m against the 2020 cap, and the Panthers saved $8.1m by ‘mutually parting ways’ with him. I don’t think many NFL fans would be keen to see Olsen being paid like the elite tight end that he used to be... and he has options. He could opt for the relatively comfortable life of a TV analyst and avoid the rigors of training camp and a 16-game season that is unlikely to end up with a super bowl ring. He won’t be negotiating from strength; neither will he be negotiating from a position of weakness. In the end, it may be difficult to find an amount of money that reflects the value that the aging tight end will bring to the team while still being enough to convince him to keep his other career opportunities on hold.
The Redskins need help at tight end. Despite missing 18 games over the past three seasons, I don’t think we’re necessarily looking at a player who is ‘injury prone’ or whose body is breaking down on him. If Jason Witten still has tread on the tires, so does Greg Olsen, and if it hadn’t been for the illegal hit by Ryan Anderson, Olsen likely wouldn’t have missed a game in 2019.
It may be significant to note that, because Olsen is being released by the Panthers (a) he can be signed as soon as that release is official - no need to wait until March, and (b) he won’t count against the compensatory pick formula for the team that signs him.
If Olsen wants to play, he will find a home somewhere outside of Carolina. The tricky part will be finding a contract that is the right value for the team, and attractive enough to keep the former Panther tight end out of the broadcast booth for another year.
Should the Redskins try to sign 34-year-old Greg Olsen to a one-year contract for 2020?
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