After Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen ruptured his right plantar fascia on Sunday in a loss at Tampa Bay, he indicated that his 2018 season was over.
The Panthers will make that official this week by placing Olsen on injured reserve, according to a league source. It will be the second time in two years that Olsen will have been placed on injured reserve.
Olsen suffered a fracture in his right foot in Week 2 of the 2017 season and had it surgically repaired, spending eight weeks on injured reserve before returning to the field with a screw in his foot. Olsen re-fractured the same foot in Week 1 this year, but elected to rehabilitate it without surgery in hopes he could return sooner. He came back in Week 6 and in the following weeks caught 27 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns.
Olsen has been an enormous asset to the organization and Charlotte community during his eight years in Carolina.
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But is it the end of the road for him after this latest injury?
Three thoughts on the present and the future:
Standing up straight
One of the most impressive displays of character I have ever seen was from Olsen, as he stood on a set of crutches in the locker room after Sunday’s game. His foot was in a boot and he had to keep looking up over the tops of reporters’ heads and blinking because his eyes kept filling with tears. But Olsen stood there as straight as he could, with the help of his crutches, and explained what had happened to him, how it happened and how he felt in the moment.
When other reporters, freed from other scrums, came to ask Olsen the same questions, he answered them again and again in the same detail - and his emotion, while apparent, never completely flooded out of him. It was pretty remarkable.
Ian Thomas’ future starts now
Rookie tight end Ian Thomas showed great flashes in the early part of the year while filling in for Olsen. I think he has enormous potential - and so do the Panthers, considering they stood pat with the first pick of the fourth round of this year’s draft. Several teams were interested in trading with Carolina to get Thomas, including a team in the Panthers’ division, according to a source familiar with the matter.
But the Panthers knew they wanted to draft Thomas, who reminded coach Ron Rivera of a younger Antonio Gates and who was clearly drafted to be the heir to Olsen’s successful regime.
Thomas has had very limited snaps since Olsen returned from rehabilitating his foot. But on Sunday at Tampa Bay, he looked a lot more sure of himself on the field when he substituted in for Olsen.
Is this it?
I’m not ready to rule Olsen out for good, even though emotions were certainly very high on Sunday night and the pain he’s had in the foot all season has been prodigious. He’s not one to leave something behind with a bad taste in his mouth.
It’s all but assured that Olsen, 33, will have some sort of job awaiting him in the broadcast booth when he is done for good.
But I don’t think a second surgery, and one last try, is out of the question for Olsen, who will make that decision in the coming weeks.
Olsen is signed through 2020. The Panthers need all the wiggle room they can get financially to rebuild a roster with several aging players, but also understand Olsen’s value to the organization.
It might be worth considering a significant restructure that is a little more team-friendly, and amenable to the Panthers’ continuing Thomas’ development as a feature tight end.
A move like that would mean Olsen gets at least one more year to see if he can be healthy with less of a workload, and can finish his career in a way that won’t stick in his craw a decade from now.
And Carolina would get to keep its longtime captain, leader of the locker room and mentor.
Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue