Will Greg Olsen play for the Panthers in 2019?

Greg Olsen catch

CHARLOTTE – Greg Olsen is confident that if healthy, he still has the ability to play tight end at a highly productive level. He's also confident that once he rehabs from the latest surgery on his right foot, he will be 100 percent healthy.

So it stands to reason that Olsen is confident that he'll continue his career with the Panthers next season, right?

"I still enjoy playing. I still know I can play," Olsen said Wednesday. "But that decision is not always up to me."

And if the decision is up to Olsen, who is under contract through the 2020 season, he may still have some soul-searching to do.

"At my age, there are always things to weigh. There were things to weigh last year," said Olsen, who will turn 34 in March. "But as I told you last year, I believed in my heart, and I still believe in my heart, that other than this little bone in my foot, I've shown that I can be pretty good."

Olsen had surgery two weeks ago to repair an injury that cost him nine games in 2017 and seven more this season. He had the foot surgically repaired last season with a procedure that allowed him to heal enough to return from injured reserve. This year after re-injuring it in Week 1, he didn't require surgery and returned after a three-game absence.

He injured the foot again on December 2, and Olsen said his second surgery two weeks ago was "the full deal" with more time to rehab at his disposal.

"Every guy I've talked to that has had this second follow-up, it kind of fixes it for good," Olsen said.

But do the Panthers share his confidence? Do they wonder that even if Olsen is fully healthy, time has caught up to him beyond his foot?

"I believe he has good football left and can help us," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. "It's just him being healthy. We'll see what happens."

Rivera and Olsen both face uncertain futures – a reality for pretty much everybody when a team loses seven consecutive games and for pretty much every NFL player north of age 30.

The Panthers once were 6-2, they were 6-5 when Olsen limped off at Tampa Bay in Week 13, and now they're 6-9 heading into Sunday's season finale at the Saints.

"This year was a huge disappointment," Olsen said. "One thing we've always held our hat on is that we've always finished the season well – whether we were making a playoff run or not. This year, we have not.

"To say that we would get better by making rash changes? That's the easy thing. I think that's very emotional. Every time people struggle, the immediate reaction is, 'There's got to be someone better.' If someone drops a pass, play the next guy. If the quarterback throws a pick, play the backup. In sports, everybody always thinks the grass is always greener.

"But we've shown around here that our stability has allowed us to be relatively consistent. We're talking about a team that's one year removed from an 11-win season. This has not been a prolonged period of failure; it's been one year of failure."

Olsen's foot has failed him for more than one year now. But this time he can take his time with his rehab, and he expects to be physically ready before organized team activities in mid-May.

"My focus right now is to get my foot better and to finally be back to what I've been used to for a long time. I haven't felt that way during a football game in a long time," Olsen said. "That would be fun again to play like I'm used to playing – without having pain and discomfort and treatment, surgery, rehab. It's exhausting.

"We'll let the chips fall where they may at the end of the season. I'll speak with the team, kind of see what their plan is, see what the plan for the future of the organization is and where we're headed. There are so many factors right now."