CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - Another offseason, another potential contract dispute involving Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
Olsen, the three-time Pro Bowler, had incentives added to his deal last summer after first telling the Observer he wanted to be paid among the highest-paid players at his position.
That contract – which will pay Olsen $6.5 million in base salary this year – expires at the end of the 2018 season.
Olsen, 33, wants to stay with the Panthers and believes he can play another three to five years.
But he also is eyeing a broadcasting future, one that could begin sooner rather than later if he's hired as Jon Gruden's replacement on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." Olsen was in Bristol, Conn., last month auditioning for the role.
"My preference would be to know my future here in Carolina past this year, if I'm being honest. Whether or not that happens, we'll see," Olsen said Tuesday during a phone interview. "But that would be the ideal situation and then that would answer a lot of these unknown questions."
Olsen said he's always had good communication with Panthers coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney, who added the incentives to Olsen's deal shortly after being hired as interim GM last July.
Olsen said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, hasn't had any contract talk with the Panthers yet. Olsen said he understands this is a different sort of offseason, with owner Jerry Richardson in the process of selling the team.
"Everyone knows what we went through last year trying to get something done (contractually). We were able to kind of patchwork it," Olsen said. "But overall I have a lot of trust in Marty and Ron. They've always been very fair to me.
"If this was my last year in Carolina, I'd have no ill will. They've been more than generous and good to me. I would prefer it to be longer. But this team is a lot more than just my situation."
Hurney declined to discuss Olsen's contract situation this week, but praised Olsen's work ethic and said he hopes the tight end will be in Carolina beyond this season.
"I don't think anybody works harder. I think you can ask our players, our trainers, our strength people – nobody works harder year-round than Greg Olsen does," Hurney told the Observer. "So I think he's got a burning desire to play for as long as he can. And obviously we would prefer it to be with us."
Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons when he accomplished the feat from 2014-2016, earning Pro Bowl honors every year over that span.
He played in only seven games last season after breaking a bone in his right foot in a Week 2 win against Buffalo. The injury – known as a Jones fracture – has required some players to undergo follow-up surgeries.
But Olsen says he's been cleared medically and has been working out without any issues. The Panthers began the first phase of their offseason program this week.
"It's not like an Achilles, a knee, necks and all those. At the end of the day it was a small bone in your foot. As big of a pain in the (butt) as it is, in the grand scheme of things I'm fine. It just took a little time to heal," Olsen said.
"But this offseason I've been full-go for a long time now. Months of running. Months of cutting. I have no restrictions."
ESPN has brought in a number of well-known players to audition for the "MNF" job, including Brett Favre and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, according to a New York Post report.
An ESPN official declined comment Tuesday when asked whether Olsen was still under consideration.
Olsen said he told Rivera and Hurney about his ESPN audition ahead of time because he was certain it would become a media firestorm when the news of his interest broke.
"The reality of it is there's not a lot of those jobs out there and when they ask you to come in and go through that audition process and go through those motions, it's a great opportunity," Olsen said Tuesday.
"My mind and my prep has always been on playing," he added. "But the reality is those jobs do get your attention a little bit and you've at least got to look behind the curtain."
Olsen said he thinks the Panthers will have a smooth transition going from Mike Shula to Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, noting the similarities between Turner's system and what the Panthers first began running under Rob Chudzinski.
And Olsen said he wasn't worried about the possibility the Panthers could take another tight end early in next week's draft.
"The reality of getting old in this league is at some point they've got to replace you. I don't live in la-la (land). I try to be pretty aware of how things work, pretty honest with myself and the situation," he said.