As a wide receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. hasn’t had much of an impact in the NFL. With just 31 catches over his last two seasons, he’s played just a supporting role in the San Francisco 49ers offense.
As a return man, however, Ginn has star power.
The question now is, how much is that worth to the 49ers?
Ginn is an unrestricted free agent on a team that needs to make significant upgrades to its corps of receivers. Only wideouts Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams are under contract for 2012 and the Niners are looking to add an impact player or two through free agency or the draft to make their passing game more of a threat than it was in 2012.
Just before the 2011 season, Ginn agreed to restructure his deal – some reports indicated he agreed because the team was thinking of cutting him – to significantly lower his base salary while also eliminating the sixth year of the rookie contract he signed with the Dolphins he was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported last September that the new deal lowered Ginn’s base from $2.2 million in 2011 to $1 million, with the possibility of earning $400,000 in incentives.
More importantly, it erased the sixth year of the deal that would have been 2012.
Now, Ginn’s status is uncertain.
As a receiver, the former Ohio State star has had minimal impact in San Francisco. In 2011 he made just 19 catches for 220 yards and no TDs; the year before, after being acquired from Miami, he caught just 12 balls for 163 yards and one score. His biggest season came in 2008, when he had a 56-catch year for the Dolphins, averaged 14.1 yards per reception with two TDs.
As a return man, though, Ginn has been a game-breaker.
In the 2011 season opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks, Ginn returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns, two of six career return TDs in the NFL.
This past season, Ginn ranked third in the NFL in average yards per kickoff return (27.6) and No. 4 in average yards per punt return (12.3).
His production helped the 49ers – who had some of the best special teams in the league – consistently win the battle of field position with opponents. And the fact he missed the NFC Championship Game with an injury – putting Williams on the spot in his place – eventually proved fatal for the 49ers’ Super Bowl chances in their overtime loss to the Giants.
Would the outcome have been different if Ginn had been able to return kicks and punts that day? We’ll never know.
So now, with the 49ers on the hunt for wide receivers – while also needing to spend money to keep such free agents as quarterback Alex Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson -- will GM Trent Baalke decide it’s worth the money to re-sign Ginn, or let him go and seek a cheaper or younger option on returns through the draft or free agency?
After Ginn’s performance as a return man in 2011, it’s unlikely San Francisco will be able to get Ginn again for a base as low as $1 million.
Ginn acknowledged last summer, in signing the restructured deal, that he wanted to stay in San Francisco. After his two-TD game vs. the Seahawks in September, Ginn told the Associated Press:
“I’m a team player. It’s not always about money. You come in, you play the game and as you play the game, good things should happen for you.”
Soon, he’ll know if that includes staying in San Francisco.