In January as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Ted Ginn Jr. was shaking hands with Carolina Panthers players, coaches and staff after the Cardinals’ 27-16 playoff loss to Carolina when he got to veteran linebacker Thomas Davis.
It had been a tough year for Ginn, who just one year earlier had one of the best seasons of his career with the Panthers. Davis had a message for his former teammate.
“He said, ‘Hey, leave your stuff in the visitor’s locker room. We’re on our way,’” Ginn recalled. “The biggest thing for me was, when I come out of this (contract) situation, go somewhere where I know I’m loved. The Panthers were a no-brainer.”
After what Ginn described as the toughest year of his nine-year career, the speedy receiver/returner was released from his three-year contract with the Cardinals in the offseason and happily rejoined the Panthers on a two-year contract worth $4.2 million.
Ginn has dealt with broken promises for years but always appreciated the culture with the Panthers. Last year he went where the money was because he thought it was in the best interest of his family.
Now he realizes he should have stayed put in Carolina, which has now given him a second opportunity to revive his career.
But this wasn’t a charity case for the Panthers. They’re getting something out of this – depth at receiver and a reliable returner after a bad year for the special teams.
“Teddy Ginn, it’s like he never left,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He fits right back into the system. He’s caught some big balls obviously using his tremendous speed.
“It does an awful lot for the offense. There’s some things that he’s going to bring to the table that are going to be really big for us, especially the vertical stretch.”
In 2013, Carolina signed Ginn to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million one year after the former No. 9 overall pick had two catches for one yard in San Francisco. He established himself as Carolina’s No. 3 receiver with 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns along with averaging more than 12 and 23 yards on punt and kick returns, respectively.
His resurgence put him in line for a payday, but the cap-strapped Panthers didn’t have the money to compete with the likes of the Cardinals, who signed Ginn to a three-year deal worth $9.75 million.
Ginn now says he was “chasing a check” by going to Arizona as he realized he was closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
“It’s very important because I got kids,” said Ginn, who is recently married and has 5-year-old twins. “I’m only 30 and I’ve put all my whole life into football. I don’t know how many people can really say what they really, really want to do after this until they have to do it. Right now while I’m in this business I have to get everything I can get out of it. That was one thing I had to go through. But to be able to come back here and walk in and be the same guy is great.”
What Ginn didn’t account for was the breakout season by then-rookie receiver John Brown. A third-round pick, Brown had 48 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns last year and diminished the need for Ginn in Arizona.
Ginn drew interest from the Titans, 49ers, Browns and Panthers upon his release, but Ginn said he had a focused eye on returning to Carolina, “gunslinger” quarterback Cam Newton and receivers coach Ricky Proehl.
“Ricky Proehl has been a big influence on that,” Ginn said. “It’s a blessing when you have a guy who will tell you what to do and will fight for you so you’ll be able to just to go out there and play. Whatever’s come out of his mouth has been true. You can’t take that away.”
Not only did he see an opportunity to reprise his role as the primary returner, but also to become a reliable target in the receiving game after getting just 190 yards on 14 catches with Arizona.
When he returned, the receiving corps looked much different. Gone were Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, replaced by the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery.
Still, Ginn feels the same vibe on the one team he’s always felt comfortable with.
“It was kind of tough going from being a semi-older guy to one of the older guys. It’s been great though,” Ginn said.
“It’s not a real big difference from when I first got here with Steve and LaFell. It’s the same type of situation and culture. Everybody wants to win, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to let the next man get what he needs to get for us to be who we need to be.”