Later that week, the Panthers officially placed Olsen on Injured Reserve. For the Panthers, now reeling from a fourth-straight loss, seeing Olsen finally break down was yet another blow to the locker room.
“It sucks to see him out like that,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith. “But we know what he’s been battling all year. Each and every day, he’s been battling and putting it on out there for the team, doing what he had to do to make it to the next week. It sucks to see that it’s gonna sideline him.
“For a guy like Greg who’s such a professional, who’s such a positive influence in the community, on the field as well as off, you just hate to see certain things happen,” said Cam Newton. “He’s a person that works extremely hard, and if anybody’s owed certain successes, he would be probably in the front of the line. But to see him go down with an injury that you know he’s been battling with for some time now, you hurt for him.”
Right tackle Taylor Moton, speaking with Bryan Strickland of the Panthers, perhaps put the team’s feelings towards Olsen best.
“I love Greg,” said Moton. “A great player but an even better person.”
But in spite of Olsen once again being indisposed, there was nonetheless optimism that he would be able to once again make a valiant return.
“You know that the battler, the type of person that he is, the person that he’s capable of being, you know this is not the end for Greg,” said Newton. “For him to really mend up and get rest and really fix a issue that was lingering for some time, it’s only good things in the future for him.”
Among the good things awaiting Olsen was, oddly enough, surgery. When Olsen had originally broken his foot in 2017, he had opted to undergo a surgery that would allow him to return to playing in-season. In mid-December, he underwent what he called the “full deal“, which would hopefully put his foot issues behind him.
“Typically every guy that I’ve talked to that has had this second follow-up one (says it) kind of fixes it for good,” said Olsen as he addressed the media the day after Christmas, prior to the Panthers’ season finale.
The Panthers had not won without Olsen in the weeks that followed his injury, and their season was set to end in a Week 17 trip to play the New Orleans Saints (A game they would win 33-17 to give them a final record of 7-9). During the weeks that followed his injury, Olsen had found his answer: He wanted to continue playing for the Panthers in 2019.
But in saying that, Olsen was aware of the unfortunate position he had been boxed into: The position of an aging veteran who suddenly had a history of injuries. And given that, he knew full well that the Panthers’ organization could have different ideas about his future.
“I still enjoy playing, I still know I can play. But that decision’s not always up to me,” said Olsen. “So we’ll let the chips fall where they may at the end of the season: Speak with the team, see what their plan is, see what the plan (is) of the future of the organization is, where we’re headed.”
“There’s so many factors right now I think that are in play, that it’s not a matter of whether I want to or not as much as whether or not that’s in the cards.”
Even with his own future up in the air, Olsen once again played the role of team leader: The Panthers’ season, at 6-9, had turned into a disaster. Fans were growing restless, and media speculation raged as to whether or not owner David Tepper had as well. Needless to say, all this was giving head coach Ron Rivera and his staff a great deal of trouble.
And so, Olsen once again offered his brand of level, balanced approaches to problems: How making rash, emotional changes would not solve any of the Panthers’ problems. How stability had been the key to the Panthers’ success through the years. And how what had happened to the Panthers was more of a product of the fickle nature of professional football than it was an indictment on them.
“Every training camp when we meet at that lawn in Wofford, there’s no telling how a season goes,” said Olsen. “You can be talented, you can look on paper at how fast guys are and how many passes they catch and how good you should be in free agents and drafts and all that – In this league, it’s very hard to predict the future. Good and bad. No one thought we’d go to the Super Bowl. No one thought we’d lose the last seven games.”
“This NFL, if you’re not careful, it can catch up on you quick.”
Olsen is perhaps the best illustration of that: He has gone from being regarded as one of the very best tight ends in the league to being regarded, at worst, as potentially damaged goods. In 2019, he will once again be out on the comeback trail – If he gets that opportunity in Carolina.
Should he do so, he would almost certainly be a prime candidate to return to form and wage a campaign worthy of the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. And should he be successful, it would be yet another testament to a player and a man who has earned his place as one of the very best to ever suit up for the Carolina Panthers.