A new coach, a reorganized front office, generally a different way of doings – the Carolina Panthers continue to evolve under the leadership of second-year owner David Tepper. Whether three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen will be a part of the franchise's renaissance, however, remains to be seen.
The possibility that his time in Charlotte – if not his career – could be over led to teammates, fans and even Olsen himself to treat Sunday's regular-season finale at Bank of America like a well-deserved sendoff. Olsen – who came to the Panthers through 2011 trade with the Chicago Bears – caught two passes for 12 yards during the first half of Carolina's 42-10 loss to New Orleans. The 31st overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Miami watched the second half from the sideline.
A live shot of Olsen was put up on the video boards during the fourth quarter along with his career stats, prompting a nice ovation from the few fans who stuck around on a soggy, gray day in Uptown Charlotte.
“The reality that this very well could be it – not just here, but maybe for good,” Olsen said. “I got here nine years ago and my career was a little bit in flux. I was the odd man out in Chicago. This team took a shot on me trading for me. Pete has been my coach every day since I’ve been here. He’s been unbelievable for my development. He believed in me and gave me a chance when I was kind of on the fence about whether I was going to be that next breakout guy or if I was going to be just another first-round bust, so to speak.”
Olsen's career has been anything but a bust.
After Sunday's game, Olsen ranks fifth all-time among tight ends in both receptions (718) and receiving yards (8,444). His 59 receiving touchdowns are eighth.
But he'll turn 35 in March and has increasingly dealt with injuries during over the past few seasons.
Olsen began his career by playing full 16-game schedules for nine straight years before a broken foot benched him for an extended stretch in 2017. He missed seven games last season – including the final four games – after he ruptured the plantar fascia in his right foot. He was concussed during Carolina's Week 13 loss to Washington and missed the next two games.
Still he managed to catch 76 passes for 585 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers integrated younger players into their offense.
"Just from my development and my understanding of the game, it's huge (being Olsen's teammate)," second-year quarterback Kyle Allen said. "He's one of the smartest players I've ever been around. He understands everything from every position, every area. I'm blessed to be able to play with him the last couple of years. I grew up watching him torch defenses with Cam (Newton). I don't know if I've played with someone I had more fun with than Greg."