Panthers’ Greg Olsen planning a return to elite level, not retirement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A large group of Charlotte Mecklenburg County teachers erupted into screams late Tuesday afternoon when Greg Olsen emerged from the opposite end of the locker room at Bank of America Stadium.

“That was like ‘The Bachelor’ reveal,” the Carolina Panthers tight end said as he warmed up the crowd before owner David Tepper announced a $120,000 gift to Classroom Central.

Yes, Olsen has a way with words. And he can be downright charming.

That’s why the three-time Pro Bowl selection spent Super Bowl Sunday as a guest analyst for ESPN’s pregame show, why he was among the candidates last year to be an analyst on Monday Night Football and why he has been a guest analyst on other networks.

But Olsen, who was perfect for this event as the son of two teachers, also is one heckuva football player, and he still has a few on-field things to accomplish before he retires to the broadcast booth.

Olsen said he won’t close the door on opportunities outside of football, adding: “Right now, my mindset is on doing everything to have a better season this year, personally and as a team.

“I’m in every day doing my foot rehab, trying to get this thing finally back to where I was used to. That’s what I’m preparing for, and that all starts with getting my foot right.”

Olsen understands the wear and tear that has New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkoswki considering retirement after he won his third Super Bowl ring on Sunday. Olsen has missed half of the 32 regular-season games the past two seasons because of multiple injuries to his right foot.

He’s still rehabbing from the last surgery, which required him to miss the final four games of the 2018 season.

But at 33 — four years older than Gronkowski — Olsen doesn’t have retirement on his mind.

He still believes he can be one of the best tight ends in the NFL, as he was from 2014-16, when he became the first at his position in league history to record three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

“If I’m healthy, I still have a lot of confidence in what I can do,” said Olsen, who has two years left on his contract with Carolina. “I know what I can do. I know what I’ve been to this offense and what I still can do. The only thing in 12 years that has stopped that has been a little bone in my foot.

“Outside of that, I’ve been as productive, if not more, than anybody in the league [at tight end].”

Olsen was quarterback Cam Newton’s security blanket for most of the quarterback’s first six seasons.

In part because of Olsen’s injuries, ownership of that role was transferred to 2017 first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey, who has 187 catches the past two seasons.

At his best, Olsen had 161 catches in a two-year stint (2014-2015) with Newton.

But when healthy, Olsen (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) is as good as any tight end in the NFL, including Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265). We were reminded of that with Olsen’s twisting, one-handed touchdown catch against Tampa Bay, which announcer Ronde Barber said was “as good as catch you’ll see.”

Even though offensive coordinator Norv Turner runs the offense more through McCaffrey, there’s plenty of room for a weapon like Olsen.

Two security blankets are better than one.

So you can do away with any thoughts Olsen might be debating his future like Gronkowski. Outside of coaching his kid’s basketball team, Olsen is focused on getting back to an elite level and making a run at the Lombardi Trophy.

“Everybody’s story is different,” Olsen said of Gronkowski’s situation. “He’s had a lot of different injuries over a lot longer period of time. He’s won a couple of Super Bowls, so that makes it easier to walk away.

“I don’t know if any two things are the same outside of playing the same position. … Everyone needs to make that decision for themselves. When it’s time to go, you know.”

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