By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tight end was a major point of weakness for the 2019 Patriots. As such, any time any tight end becomes available in any way this offseason, a possible pursuit from the Patriots will need to be pondered.
Greg Olsen, step right up.
The veteran tight end was officially released by the Panthers on Monday, thus freeing him to sign with any team.
The release of #Panthers TE Greg Olsen is official, per the NFL’s transaction wire. So the veteran is a free agent and able to sign with a new team.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 3, 2020
While the soon-to-be-35-year-old already has one foot into a post-playing-career on television, he said last week that he has not “closed the door on any potential career options” and still has “the love of football” in his heart. So if the right opportunity presents itself, it looks like Olsen might be willing to give it the old college try.
The question then would become whether or not the Patriots would be appealing for him. One might imagine that the contractual fate of Tom Brady would play a significant factor in Olsen making his own determination, if the Patriots do indeed come calling.
As for the Patriots’ side of the matter … there really shouldn’t be any hesitation in inquiring about Olsen’s services. His Pro Bowl days (2014, 2015, 2016) are behind him, and he missed significant time in 2017 and 2018 due to a nagging foot injury, but he managed to play in 14 games in 2019, missing two games due to a concussion.
In those 14 games, Olsen caught 52 passes (on 82 targets) for 597 yards and two touchdowns.
Those numbers are, obviously, a ways off from the rough average of 1,000 yards and five touchdowns he compiled from 2012-16, but considering the Panthers employed Kyle Allen and Will Grier for the majority of the season, the numbers end up looking slightly better.
Plus, Olsen’s receiving total of 597 yards was more than Ben Watson (173), Matt LaCosse (131) and Ryan Izzo (114) compiled combined in 2019. Olsen’s two touchdowns matched the Patriots’ touchdown total at the tight end position.
From that perspective, the Patriots would obviously be unwise to pooh-pooh any potential options for upgrading the position, even if that means springing for an older veteran who’s been banged up for two of the last three years. He’d theoretically be available at a cheaper price than a top-tier free agent like Hunter Henry, but he’d likely have to agree to a notable drop in pay while making a move to the Northeast. For someone with three children, doing so might not be as appealing as a non-NFL player might believe it to be.
During Sunday’s pregame show, Olsen didn’t seem overly eager to make a pitch for himself to play for Bill Belichick. Olsen joked that he is a backup plan for the Patriots — if they fail at luring Rob Gronkowski out of retirement.
“I’m their backup. I’m like their fallback date,” Olsen said. “They’re trying to get Gronk back, and if they don’t get him, I’m like third in line.”
Olsen also said this past week that the Patriots were going to trade for Olsen in 2010 if Rob Gronkowski had been selected prior to their spot at No. 42 overall. Because Gronkowski was available, the Patriots opted to draft Gronkowski instead of trading for Olsen.
Now 10 years later, it’s a different picture. But with the Patriots in a real need for a tight end who can contribute as a pass catcher, the team should certainly express some interest in his services. The potential for a union may depend more on the dollars offered and Olsen’s desire to play in New England at this stage in his career. He’d be unlikely to even be able to make such a decision until Brady’s situation gets resolved, so this would not be anything imminent for either side.