Fittingly, Ted Ginn Jr. has returned.
It is, after all, what he does best.
The free-agent wide receiver and one of the NFL’s best kick and punt returners, tested the market, flirting with Detroit, Minnesota and Baltimore before finally agreeing Thursday to return to the 49ers.
Cam Inman of the Bay Area News group reported Ginn has signed a one-year deal with the 49ers. It was, notes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, a bit of a surprise, given that Ginn had told the Detroit Free Press recently that he was looking for a large role as a wide receiver.
Last season with the 49ers, Ginn had just 31 catches for 383 yards.
But in a conference call with Bay Area media Thursday, Ginn says he’s happy to return to San Francisco where he again will play a key role on special teams while also contributing to the offense as a wideout – a much deeper group with the addition of former Giant Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, who sat out last season.
“I was happy with my role,” Ginn said Thursday, according to Branch. “When you’re playing a game like this, you’ve got to be a team player. So that’s what I am first. Everyone wishes they could get a ball or two more. That’s just being a human being.”
Though Ginn’s speed can certainly be an asset to the passing game, it’s as a return man where he can be an every-game difference-maker to the Niners.
Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, special teams are not an afterthought, but a priority. When he built his staff before his debut season in 2011, Harbaugh recruited one of the NFL’s most respected special teams coaches, Brad Seely. Seely, in fact, is the team’s assistant head coach and is paid $1 million per year, reportedly the highest salary in the NFL for a special teams coordinator, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In 2011, the 49ers consistently won field-position and special-teams battles with opponents, thanks to excellent kick and punt coverage and Ginn’s returns. Ginn ranked third in the NFL (27.6 yards) on kickoff-return average, an fourth in punt-return average (12.3 yards). In the season-opening win over Seattle, he returned both a kickoff and touchdown for scores. And, in the NFC Championship Game, his absence because of injury was notable as Kyle Williams – pressed into service as a punt returner in his place – committed two glaring errors, including one in overtime that set up the Giants’ winning score.
Niners GM Trent Baalke, in a statement, said that Ginn is a “versatile player” who will “continue to play an important role for us on both offense and special teams.”
With a group of wide receivers that includes Michael Crabtree, Moss, Manningham and Williams on the team, Ginn knows he’ll be in competition for playing time on offense.
“It’s just a matter of going out and seeing what happens,” Ginn said Thursday on his conference call. “It’s a new year. A new squad. … I’m just going to go out and compete.”