When 13-year veteran tight end Greg Olsen signed with the Seahawks in mid-February, he thought he’d be spending the spring months getting to know the city that for at least a year he will call his home workplace, as well as becoming acquainted with his new teammates and coaches.
Instead, Olsen’s days currently consist of waking up in his permanent home in Charlotte and heading to an office about five minutes away to spend his afternoon zooming in to virtual meetings with the Seahawks.
The adjustments the NFL is having to make due to the novel coronavirus, of course, pale in comparison to its vast impact on other aspects of life.
But adjustments they still are.
Instead of players gathering at team facilities for offseason programs, they are instead doing them virtually, each locked in his own space, whatever that might be.
Olsen and the rest of the Seahawks are entering their second week of a three-week phase one of the offseason program, which for Olsen is also serving as an official introduction to his new playbook.
“They’re doing a really good job, I think,’’ Olsen said Tuesday during a Zoom meeting that also served as an introduction to Seattle media. “We’re getting a lot done. Considering the circumstances, through technology nowadays you can really have a lot of interaction, you can really have a lot of dialogue, and they’re doing a nice job simulating it.
“It’s not how I pictured it when I signed in February. But it’s not just me. There’s tons of guys throughout the league that are adjusting to new teams, new cities, and haven’t quite been able to get out there and to follow up on the virtual meetings.’’
Olsen, who played the last nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers, said he at least can get away some to handle his Seahawks business.
“I have an office space that we run our foundation (which focuses in part on helping children with congenital heart disease) and some outside football stuff out of, and it’s just a nice place for me to go,” he said. “I’m the only one here, and I can really dive in. It’s quiet. I have room. I can spread myself out, and it’s just a really good place for me to dive in without kids and dogs. I’ve got three young kids. I’ve got dogs barking, as I’m sure you guys do, too.”
And Olsen has found the positive in the uniqueness of this offseason, saying the lack of other distractions has meant he’s had “as good a training offseason as I’ve had” in his NFL career.
Olsen, who turned 35 in March, signed a one-year deal with Seattle that has a max value of $7 million and $5.5 million guaranteed. That marked the biggest contract Seattle gave to an outside free agent this offseason, and his cap number of $6.9 million for the 2020 season is the seventh-highest on the team.
All of which means the Seahawks didn’t sign Olsen just to be a locker-room mentor to younger players. Instead, the Seahawks are hoping he can produce in the same manner as he has much of a career that sees him currently ranked 84th in NFL history in receiving yards with 8,444.
Olsen battled injuries in the 2017 and 2018 seasons but came back last year to play 14 games, missing two in December due to a concussion (including Seattle’s win over the Panthers on Dec. 15) but returning to play the final two games and finishing with 52 receptions for 597 yards and an average of 11.5 yards per catch — right in line with his career average of 11.8.
Because Olsen was released by the Panthers on Feb. 3 before coronavirus-related travel restrictions kicked in, the Seahawks were able to check Olsen out physically and are confident he’ll be healthy. Seattle signed him hoping that, if need be, he can serve as a buffer if Will Dissly needs some time to get back in the groove after he suffered an Achilles injury last October, but more optimistically hoping that from the outset he can team with Dissly to give Seattle what it thinks could be one of the best 1-2 tight-end combos in the league.
Olsen also had offers from Buffalo and Washington, each places where coaches he had worked with previously are now employed. He also could have just gone into TV work, having already done some game analysis, including for the short-lived XFL earlier this year.
But he said he was drawn to the culture the Seahawks have created under Pete Carroll, as well as the chance to play with Russell Wilson and, maybe more than anything, a chance to still win a Super Bowl ring. He played in one with Carolina following the 2015 season, when the Panthers lost to the Broncos in the title game.
Olsen said he’s happy to mentor the younger tight ends. Seattle has eight players listed as tight ends on its roster. But he said he intends to be the same player he always has been.
“I’m not just doing this to collect the paycheck and just extend my career,” he said. “… I’m looking to go somewhere and win and perform at a high level, and contribute. And I’m not looking to ruin the (end of my career) by just being a shell of myself in year 14. If I thought that was the case, I would have retired.’’
As for next year, he said he’ll worry about that then, saying his focus is solely on the 2020 season, admitting that at this stage of his career it’s always a year-to-year proposition.
And as for the Seahawks’ culture?
He got a taste of it last week when he zoomed into a meeting only to see that he had an impersonator filling his place — actor Will Ferrell, a longtime friend of Carroll’s who gave a little introductory speech as Olsen, which included telling fellow tight end Luke Willson to get a haircut and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer that he had some plays to add to the playbook, and lifting his shirt up to show off his, uh, physique.
“I’ve got to find out who talked to him because somebody gave him some good insight,’’ Olsen said. “My core is better than his, which I guess will be good, but I thought it was great. I thought it was really funny. I got a kick out of it.
” … it was kind of a fun icebreaker. You’re meeting an entire team on like a Brady Bunch wall, kind of. It’s kind of a weird way to meet your new locker room. So I thought it was really fun, and it was a cool surprise.”