Scott Fowler

How good can Panthers be? TE Greg Olsen walks line between optimism, realism

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen responds to a reporter's question in August. The hat Olsen is wearing was made by New Era and was presented to him after he became the first tight end in league history to record three consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen responds to a reporter's question in August. The hat Olsen is wearing was made by New Era and was presented to him after he became the first tight end in league history to record three consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen called his revised contract a “win-win” Thursday night, but he also said there is no way to know yet whether the Panthers themselves will be winners in 2017.

“You never really know until you get to the real season,” Olsen said after the Panthers ended their preseason at 2-2 after a 17-14 loss to Pittsburgh Thursday night. “These are kind of different scenarios with people playing and not playing. When we have our full squad next weekend, we will find out a lot more about us.”

The Panthers certainly know what they have in Olsen, 32, the sure-handed tight end who is the first at his position in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in three straight seasons. Olsen believed that he had outplayed his contract with those numbers, but he still has two years left on the three-year, $22.5-million deal he signed in 2015.

Interim general manager Marty Hurney compromised this week by keeping the deal in place but adding $2 million worth of performance-based incentives to Olsen’s contract for things like having another 1,000-yard season, hitting benchmarks in receptions and average yards per catch and being named to a postseason all-NFL team.

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Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) makes a reception against Jacksonville in a preseason game Aug. 24th. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

“I’m very appreciative of the team’s handling of the situation,” Olsen said. “It was very fair to both sides. Obviously I feel very respected by the fact that they recognize that there was something that could be done, it was just a matter of finding out what that was for both sides. I think at the end of the day we found a good solution to it, and I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Olsen said he thought all the new incentives were reachable because “they are all things that I have done before,” although adding that earning the extra money would not be his “No. 1 goal.”

Not worried about Newton

Olsen had steeled himself to the possibility that nothing more could be done to his contract. The Observer reported in July that former general manager Dave Gettleman was fired by owner Jerry Richardson on the eve of training camp in part because of Gettleman’s contractual issues with both Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis, who was also seeking a new contract and ended up getting one.

“Since we opened up camp, it’s really just been about preparing for the year and getting myself as ready as possible to have another good season,” Olsen said of his revised contract. “This is just kind of the icing on the cake.”

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Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Shula during an August practice. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Like the other Panthers starters on both sides of the ball, Olsen didn’t play Thursday night. He was joined on the sideline by quarterback Cam Newton, who was rested much of August to combat shoulder soreness and threw only two passes the entire preseason. I asked Olsen if he worried about Newton’s rustiness, which has been obvious at times in practice.

“No,” Olsen said. “I think what people have to realize after so many years, so many reps and games, sometimes these things happen. I barely played at all in the preseason last year. Sometimes little things alter the plan. This is going to be his seventh year in the league. He’s seen a lot of things. He has a lot of experience, and you just kind of count on guys’ instincts kicking in.”

‘I believe we have a chance’

As for the Panthers, Olsen has always walked the line between optimism and realism. He warned after the Super Bowl season that it was possible Carolina could start the next year 1-4 and wonder what had gone wrong, and that’s exactly what ended up happening. He thinks this team could be very good and likes the youth that the Panthers have injected into the team such as rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. But Olsen also knows that you don’t know what you don’t know until the season starts.

“The proof will kind of be seen as we move forward here,” Olsen said, referring to the Panthers’ opener Sept. 10 at San Francisco. “I think we’ve had a good preseason, gotten all the work we’ve wanted to get done. ... But a lot of it is hard to tell until the games start. I believe we have a chance.”

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