The Seahawks made their first big addition of the offseason Tuesday, reaching an agreement with veteran free agent Greg Olsen on a one-year deal, a big step toward easing concerns about the tight end position.
The contract is worth up to $7 million with $5.5 million guaranteed at signing, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who was the first to report the news. The terms were later confirmed to The Seattle Times. The team officially announced the agreement Tuesday afternoon.
Carolina released Olsen earlier this month, and he then visited the Seahawks, Washington and Buffalo searching for a new NFL home. Both the Bills and Washington have coaches who worked with Olsen in Carolina (including longtime Panthers head coach Ron Rivera in Washington), leading some to consider one of those two teams as the favorites.
But the chance to play for a contending team and with Russell Wilson were among the factors that helped tip the scales for Olsen as well as Seattle’s aggressiveness to go after him.
Because Olsen was released, he was able to sign immediately as a so-called “street free agent.” Players whose 2019 contracts run out and who become unrestricted free agents can sign with new teams beginning March 18.
That Olsen had been cut also likely increased Seattle’s eagerness to sign him because he will not factor into the formula for determining compensatory choices in 2021 (only players whose contracts run out and become UFAs are part of the formula).
Olsen, who turns 35 next month, spent the past nine years with the Panthers before they released him in a cost-cutting move while starting over under new coach Matt Rhule. Olsen had one year remaining on a deal that would have paid him $11.6 million in 2020.
Olsen had told The Athletic that along with continuing to play he also was exploring the idea of retiring from football and immediately pursing television commentating — he has done some work with Fox in the past and currently is working XFL games — saying “those opportunities are definitely still on the table.”
But Olsen ultimately decided to play at least one more season and help the Seahawks beef up a position that was depleted by injuries in 2019.
Olsen, though, comes to Seattle with a few questions of his own about his age and recent injuries.
Olsen played 14 games last season but missed two late-season contests due to a concussion, including Seattle’s victory over the Panthers in Charlotte on Dec. 15, then played limited snaps in the final two games of the year.
He also played just a combined 16 games in the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to a foot injury.
But the Seahawks will hope for a return to sustained health by Olsen at a spot that loomed as one of immediate need.
Seattle has just two other tight ends under contract for 2020, both of whom ended the 2019 season on injured reserve — Will Dissly and Ed Dickson.
Dissly, a former Huskies standout, is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in a game at Cleveland on Oct. 13 while Dickson did not play at all last year due to a knee injury and has been widely presumed likely to be a cap casualty himself as he enters the last season of a three-year contract signed in 2018. Seattle can save $3 million against the cap if Dickson is released, money the Seahawks undoubtedly factored into the signing of Olsen.
Jacob Hollister ended last season as the team’s starter and now is a restricted free agent, meaning Seattle can retain him with a qualifying offer that would give the team the right to match any other offers — something it seems likely to do — while Luke Willson now is an unrestricted free agent and appears unlikely to be back. Tyrone Swoopes, the other healthy tight end on the roster when the season ended, is an exclusive-rights free agent. (Seattle also traded tight end Nick Vannett to Pittsburgh two weeks before the loss of Dissly for a draft choice it later used to acquire safety Quandre Diggs).
Dissly showed his approval of the move with a tweet sent shortly after the news broke welcoming Olsen to Seattle.
The signing also helps give quarterback Wilson another playmaker after a season when the Seahawks often lacked for a third option other than Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, especially after they lost Dissly in Week 6 (Dissly had 23 receptions for 262 yards before being injured).
Olsen showed he could still be effective when healthy last season with 52 receptions for 597 yards and two touchdowns, including six for 110 yards against Tampa Bay and eight for 98 against Green Bay.
Wilson had hinted at wanting Olsen to come join him in a tweet earlier this month, which he happily referenced on Tuesday shortly after the news broke, quote tweeting the earlier tweet saying “This aged well.” Olsen later responded via Twitter with an allusion to his original tweet that “I guess my references checked out.”
Seattle entered the day with just more than $50 million in effective cap space for 2020, according to OvertheCap.com. But Dickson’s expected release will help account for much of Olsen’s salary.
A $7 million cap number would be the seventh-highest for any Seattle player currently under contract for the 2020 season. But if Olsen can play near his usual form, it could well prove worth it, especially with Dissly’s situation still unknown heading into the season.
Olsen, who made the Pro Bowl from 2014 to 2016, has 718 catches in a 13-year career — 47th most in NFL history — and 59 touchdowns, which is tied for 90th.
And with Seattle seeming likely to tender Hollister and keep him in the fold, Seattle could enter the 2020 season with a tight end trio of Olsen, Hollister and Dissly, while undoubtedly adding another one or two as depth and/or insurance for Dissly. Seattle could also look to draft a tight end to groom for the future, with Olsen obviously a short-term solution.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did not give a specific timeline for Dissly’s recovery when he talked to reporters last on Jan. 13.
“He’s killing it,” Carroll said. “He’s killing the rehab. Will is doing great. He’s spending some time down in L.A. to get right, and he’s really fired up about the people that he’s working with and the progress he’s making. He’s been around a lot. He’ll get it done. Will will get it done. There’s no question he will. But, it’s a long process, it’s going to be some tough work for him.”
The move also helps fulfill Wilson’s request last month to add some “superstars.”
Now the task will be to try to reel in a few more of those, such as defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
But Tuesday marked what the team hopes is a significant step in trying to get deeper into the playoffs in 2020.