The Carolina Panthers have found a left tackle, a speed receiver and veteran returner – and free agency doesn’t officially start until Tuesday afternoon.
The Panthers turned to a familiar face to fill two of those roles Monday, adding receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. with a two-year deal worth $4.2 million and a $1.7 million signing bonus.
Ginn, 29, was a key contributor on the Panthers’ division-winning team in 2013 before he left in free agency when Arizona offered him a three-year deal worth $9.75 million last offseason.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman got a bit of a discount on Ginn after his disappointing season with the Cardinals. The $1.7 million in guaranteed money is nearly half of the $3.25 million in guarantees he received from Arizona a year ago.
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Ginn’s arrival comes three days after the Panthers added “Blind Side” movie left tackle Michael Oher for a two-year deal worth $7 million, with a $2.5 million signing bonus.
As they did with Ginn, the Panthers paid less for Oher than they would have in 2014, when he signed a four-year, $20 million contract with Tennessee. However, they also acquired two players hoping for bounce-back seasons after both underperformed last season.
Because Oher and Ginn had been cut by their former teams, they will not cost the Panthers any potential compensatory picks in the 2016 draft.
“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.”
Ginn was among a number of moves made by the Panthers on the eve of free agency, which will begin at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
They also kept No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb with a one-year deal, and brought back running back Fozzy Whittaker for two years.
Whittaker was one of four exclusive-rights free agents for the Panthers. The others – receiver Brenton Bersin, linebacker Ben Jacobs and center Brian Folkerts – got one-year deals.
Ginn had drawn interest from Tennessee, San Francisco and his home-state Cleveland Browns after Arizona cut him last month in a move that saved the Cardinals $2.5 million against the cap.
Ginn finished 2014 with 14 receptions for 190 yards as rookie John Brown emerged as a pass-catching complement to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd for the Cardinals.
Ginn lost a fumble on a kickoff return in the Panthers’ wild-card win against Arizona in January, but he should stabilize the Panthers’ return teams, which were handled by Bersin and undrafted rookie Philly Brown last season.
Ginn will handle punt returns and is expected to team with Whittaker on kickoff returns. He also should reclaim his spot as the No. 3 receiver, giving quarterback Cam Newton the deep threat that was lacking for much of the 2014 season.
“We are very pleased to have Ted back,” Gettleman said in the release. “He gives us big-play ability as a punt returner and a wide receiver. He still has his speed. He can still fly.”
Ginn was coming off an unrewarding three-year stint with San Francisco when he joined the Panthers as a low-cost signing two years ago.
His 12.2-yard punt return average in 2013 was a Panthers season record and ranked fourth in the NFC. Ginn has finished among the top five punt returners in the NFC for the past five seasons.
Besides bolstering the return game in 2013, Ginn caught 36 passes for 556 yards, and established career highs with a 15.4 yards-per-catch average and five receiving touchdowns.
Meanwhile, 6-foot-4, 230-pound Webb will return for a second season in an ultra-utility role.
He played in seven regular-season games in 2014, catching one pass for 16 yards and adding a special teams tackle. He played special teams in both playoff games, making one tackle.
With him returning along with Newton and backup Derek Anderson, the Panthers will have continuity in the quarterback room that Webb said was instrumental in his decision to stay in Charlotte.
“We had a great run with the way we finished the season and it felt like home,” Webb said. “Everyone had great team chemistry and it felt like a big family. I didn’t know if I could get that somewhere else. I’m excited to keep working with Cam and D.A., with (quarterbacks) coach (Ken) Dorsey coaching us up.”
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