Olsen is talking to the network about the Monday Night Football analyst job as a replacement for Jon Gruden, the sources said. If ESPN were to offer that job and Olsen accepted, it would start this season. That would complicate the Panthers' situation, since he remains under contract for 2018 and the team expects him to return.
Carolina officials are aware Olsen is interviewing with ESPN, but a source said the team's understanding is the three-time Pro Bowler is exploring options for the future -- not this season. Another source said Olsen, who is entering the final year of a three-year deal that averaged $7.5 million a year, is committed to the Panthers this season.
Olsen, 33, worked with the ESPN NFL Countdown crew before last month's Super Bowl in Minneapolis. He also has appeared on other ESPN shows, and he has done shows for other networks as well.
In 2016, Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. He missed nine games this past season with a broken foot suffered in Week 2. During his time away he served as a guest analyst for Fox Sports in a game between Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams.
Carolina entered free agency looking for a player to replace No. 2 tight end Ed Dickson, who is headed to Seattle. The plan was to find a player who could develop into a long-term replacement for Olsen.
That process obviously would speed up if Olsen goes to ESPN.
Olsen has 639 career receptions for 7,556 yards and 53 touchdowns. The Panthers acquired him in a trade from Chicago in 2011.