In the spring of 2015 the Carolina Panthers moved to lock up tight end Greg Olsen, who was coming off the first 1,000-yard receiving season of his career.
The Panthers signed Olsen to a three-year extension worth $22.5 million, with $12 million guaranteed.
All Olsen has done since then is post two more 1,000-yard seasons, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard years.
Olsen’s production and reliability – he has made 80 consecutive starts for the Panthers – make his last deal look like a bargain hunter’s dream. Olsen’s extension was similar to those received by offensive tackle Michael Oher (three years for $21.6 million, with $9.5 million guaranteed) in 2016 and situational edge-rusher Mario Addison (three years, $22.5 million, $9 million guaranteed) in March.
By just about any measure, Olsen has out-performed the contract, which runs through the 2018 season.
And now he wants another one.
Olsen, who’s made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons, is looking for a deal that is commensurate with the NFL’s top tight ends, according to a pair of league sources.
Olsen’s $7.5 million per-year average makes him the league’s seventh-highest paid tight end, behind Jimmy Graham ($10 million), Travis Kelce ($9.4 million), Jordan Reed ($9.35 million), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million), Zach Ertz ($8.5 million) and Charles Clay ($7.6 million).
Olsen is 12th among tight ends in terms of guaranteed money.
Olsen, who will make $6.5 million over the next two years, was asked Tuesday if he hoped the Panthers would re-work his deal.
“In the ideal world, that’d be great,” Olsen said. “I’m very confident on where I stand in the league and where I belong. Both productivity and all things considered, there’s nobody that’s been more productive or more consistent than I have. And I’ll stand on that until the cows come home.”
“You can make of that what you may,” Olsen added. “I feel comfortable with where I belong, and hopefully other people do, too.”
The Panthers’ coaching staff and front office value Olsen for his accomplishments both on and off the field.
He was one of three finalists for the 2016 NFL Man of the Year Award. Through his foundation, Olsen has raised $1.7 million for pediatric cardiology patients at Levine Children’s Hospital.
During Tuesday’s practice Olsen was shadowed by Foster Hale, a 17-year-old Piedmont High student with leukemia, through the Make-a-Wish program. Olsen worked on Hale’s football stance and bragged later that Hale caught the only two passes thrown to him during the Panthers’ first minicamp session.
“I don’t know if we’re thrilled about only two targets. I wouldn’t be thrilled in a game with only two targets,” Olsen said. “But you can only catch what they throw, right?”
“Right,” Hale said.
A message in order?
Olsen could exert some control on his contract situation if he felt so inclined. Skipping one of the next two minicamp practices would send a message to general manager Dave Gettleman.
But Olsen is not the type to take that kind of public stance, although he’ll let you know when he’s not happy with something – even if he softens things with a little humor or sarcasm.
Olsen came in at No. 67 in the NFL Network’s rankings of the top 100 players, down from No. 38 following the Panthers’ Super Bowl season. Washington’s Reed (No. 65), Kansas City’s Kelce (26) and New England’s Gronkowski (23) all ranked ahead of Olsen. (The league’s top 20 players have not been unveiled, yet.)
Olsen last month tweeted a drawing of a football player done by his son Tate, who accompanied his artwork by noting, “My dad is the 67 best player.”
“Thanks @nflnetwork,” Olsen tweeted. “I used to be #1 in his (eyes) #toughcrowd.”
For his first few years in Carolina, Olsen was considered the third-best tight end in the NFC South behind Tony Gonzalez and Graham. But then Gonzalez retired and Graham was traded from New Orleans to Seattle.
Meanwhile, Olsen has kept pulling down about 80 passes a year.
“It’s kind of been the story of my career,” Olsen said of being overlooked. “If anything it’s what’s allowed me to have the success that I’ve had and allowed me to just trying to keep improving as I’ve gotten older. I always feel like no matter what you do, you don’t quite get some of the recognition or the praise. But that’s never really been something that’s motivated me. It’s never been something that I strive for.”
Opinions that matter
Olsen he’s more concerned with what his teammates and coaches think about him.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’d put Olsen “right at the top” among the best tight ends in the game.
“He’s done a great job since he’s been here. Every year he’s had a great year,” Rivera said. “We just expect him to continue to be that guy for us.”
Want to know what Cam Newton thinks of Olsen? Go back and look at all third-down throws Newton sent in Olsen’s direction over the past six seasons.
After sharing the ball with Jeremy Shockey during Olsen’s first season in Charlotte, no tight end has been more effective as a pass-catcher than Olsen since 2012.
Olsen’s 4,844 receiving yards rank first among tight ends over that span, and his 383 catches are second only to Jason Witten’s 393.
“I’m never gonna win the popularity contest. It’s just not my style. I’m not the guy that wants to go out there and make everything about me – on game day, off the field,” Olsen said. “I’m gonna play, I’m gonna be productive and I’m gonna stand on that.
“If you look back the last five years in this league nobody’s been more productive than me. I take a lot of pride in that and I think people are surprised when they look that up.”
Olsen will be 33 at the end of his contract. But he takes good care of himself and always answers the bell: He hasn’t missed a game since sitting out Weeks 1-2 as a rookie with Chicago in 2007.
No GM or owner wants to set the precedent of tearing up contracts a couple years early, concerned a long line of like-minded players will form at their door. But Olsen’s stats and his impact to the organization and community make a compelling argument.