The Buffalo Bills are having former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen in for a visit this week on the heels of his release. The Bills have a full slate of tight ends, but could be looking to shift the position.
Greg Olsen’s situation
To restate the facts for good measure, the Carolina Panthers and Greg Olsen mutually agreed to part ways last week after Olsen’s ninth year with the franchise. Olsen leaves the Panthers as their third-all-time receiver in both yards and receptions.
Olsen’s 2019 season with the Panthers was his best since 2016 when he’d posted his third consecutive 1,000 yard season. 2019 was also Olsen’s first season without significant foot injuries since 2016 with a broken foot (twice) and ruptured plantar fascia interrupting his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Olsen piled up almost 600 yards on 52 receptions in 14 starts with the Panthers this past season, which had Kyle Allen or Will Grier leading the passing offense in all but two of the Panthers’ games.
Considering Olsen’s ability to stay on the field in 2019 and his modest production despite the lack of a starting-caliber quarterback delivering him the ball, it’s likely that Olsen can still hold his own between the white lines for whichever team he suits up for in 2020.
The Buffalo Bills found new life and future promise at the tight end in 2019 with the arrival of third-round pick Dawson Knox. A raw prospect with a high ceiling from the rudimentary offense of Ole Miss, Knox was the object of Brandon Beane’s affections to the extent he traded up to get him in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Despite the facts around Knox’s drafting, he was intended to play second fiddle from the moment he joined the Bills as they had signed former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft to a three-year almost $19-million-dollar deal. Between the money allocated to Kroft and the expected learning curve ahead of Knox, the Bills tight-end depth chart was well established before a single offseason workout.
Fast forward to the 2020 offseason, and fans saw Dawson Knox exceed most expectations for his rookie season. Although drops were a significant concern that plagued Knox all season long, his future importance in the eye of the Bills could not have been more clearly stated than when he was one of five healthy scratches the team had in their insignificant Week 17 match-up against the New York Jets.
From the moment of Olsen’s release, the Buffalo Bills were an oft-suggested landing spot. No one could be faulted for ever suggesting that a former Carolina Panthers player might wind up in Buffalo after the deluge of former players that Beane and McDermott have had walk through the doors at One Bills Drive.
Olsen’s priorities are not public, but it’s safe to assume that a locker-room culture and leadership the likes of what McDermott has created in Buffalo would seem a natural fit. Additionally, wanting to play for a contender is often a strong desire of players in Olsen’s position looking to make one last run at a championship before they hang it up. Although Buffalo is not the AFC favorite for 2020 Super Bowl, they are also no longer the snowball’s chance in hell their former reputation would indicate.
Brandon Beane has stated on numerous occasions that he is always looking at options to upgrade the roster. In this case, it’s hard not to see some wisdom in the swap of Kroft for Olsen. If the Bills release Tyler Kroft they will save $5.6 million in 2020 with $1.6 million in dead cap. Olsen’s current contract had him making $11.6 million in Carolina as the second-highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Considering his next contract is going to be significantly less than that and the amount of cap space the Bills have in 2020, releasing Kroft and signing Olsen seems to be a possibility without much financial burden.
The master and the student
Dawson Knox has no doubt benefited from having consummate pro Lee Smith on the roster as a de facto tutor in being a professional NFL tight end. With no offense meant to Smith or Kroft, there is little doubt that Greg Olsen’s skill set and expertise would provide Knox a whole new level of mentorship if he were to join that offensive meeting room.
With Knox currently being the obvious future for the Bills at the tight-end position, Olsen’s ability to contribute more both on and off the field than the Bills’ current tight-end veterans, the culture fit amongst the Bills’ current regime, Olsen’s prospective cap number, and the team’s cap flexibility—it seems like bringing Olsen to Buffalo and moving on from Tyler Kroft is an obvious opportunity that Brandon Beane should be kicking the tires on.
As always it takes two to make a deal, and perhaps Olsen doesn’t find Buffalo a desirable destination for this next and perhaps final stage of his career. In my opinion, that is possibly the only reason that this signing should not happen.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.