Panthers bring receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. back to Carolina with a 2-year contract

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FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2013, file photo, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19) eludes Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. The Panthers are bringing Ted Ginn Jr. back to North Carolina after the wide receiver/returner agreed to a 2-year contract, said a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press Monday, March 9, 2015, on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been announced. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File)


CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The Panthers are bringing Ted Ginn Jr. back to North Carolina, hoping the eight-year veteran will bolster their passing offense and return game.

Team officials said in a statement Monday that Ginn has signed a two-year deal.

The Panthers also announced they've re-signed four exclusive rights free agents — running back Fozzy Whittaker, wide receiver Brenton Bersin, linebacker Ben Jacobs and offensive lineman Brian Folkerts. Whittaker received a two-year deal, while the others signed one-year deals.

Panthers backup quarterback Joe Webb is remaining with Carolina after signing a one-year contract, the team announced on Monday.

Terms of the deals were not released.

General manager Dave Gettleman said in a release that Ginn "gives us big play ability as a punt returner and a wide receiver. He still has his speed. He can still fly."

Ginn, 29, had one of his best seasons with Carolina in 2013 before signing with Arizona as a free agent last year.

He caught 36 passes for 556 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 2013. His 15.4 yards per catch also was a career-best.

He was solid in the return game too, averaging 23.8 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards per punt return for the Panthers, giving them an explosive weapon they sorely lacked last season.

"To be able to come back here is amazing," Ginn said in a release. "It's a blessing to have a family like this that is willing to give me another opportunity to be on their ball club."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera repeatedly said two years ago that Ginn gave the team someone who could "blow the top off the defense," meaning a deep threat who could stretch the field. He also liked how Ginn could "turn the field" in the return game.

Ginn ranked fourth in the NFC with a 10.7-yard punt return average (26 returns for 277 yards and one touchdown) in 2014 with Arizona, marking the fifth consecutive season in which he has ranked fifth or higher in the NFC in punt return average. But he wasn't much of a factor in the passing game.

The Panthers lost their top four receivers last offseason, releasing Steve Smith and allowing Ginn, Brandon LaFell, and Domenik Hixon to get away in free agency.

They replaced them with rookie Kelvin Benjamin, who emerged as a solid receiver capable of making the big catch last season. Jerricho Cotchery served as a solid veteran stopgap, but the team released Jason Avant midway through the season and struggled to find an adequate No. 3 receiver to fill his spot.

Philly Brown gave the Panthers a late-season spark on offense, but has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries.

The Panthers repeated as NFC South champions last season despite a 7-8-1 record. However, they struggled in the passing game, finishing 19th in the league averaging just 219.4 yards per game.

All four of the exclusive rights free agents contributed to the Panthers' playoff run last year and are expected to contribute in 2015.

Whittaker could serve as Jonathan Stewart's back this season at running back with the team parting ways with DeAngelo Williams. Whittaker played in 10 games last season for the Panthers and carried 32 times for 145 yards and one touchdown. He also caught five passes for 60 yards and a score.

"Beyond grateful for this opportunity and ready to make the most of it!" Whittaker posted on Twitter.

Bersin caught 13 passes last season for 151 yards and a touchdown, though he struggled as a punt returner late in the season.

Folkerts has played in 26 games for the Panthers the last two seasons but has never started on the offensive line.

Jacobs played in 16 games last season for Carolina primarily on special teams. He had five tackles on defense.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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