At an age when even the most gifted athletes rely a little more on guile, 35-year-old Ted Ginn is still all about speed. He says he still has it. Only the game has slowed down.
“I can run. I can still run,” said Ginn, the former Dolphins, 49ers, Panthers, Cardinals and Saints wide receiver who signed a one-year contract with the Bears on Monday. “That’s my attribute. I can run. I can catch. I can jump. I can do everything I can possibly do to be a receiver.”
Ginn said he once was timed at 4.22 and 4.28 in the 40-yard dash. He was timed at 4.33 “or something like that” at his pro day in 2007 and 4.38 in the 40 the scouting combine — then was drafted ninth overall by the Dolphins. But at 35? After 13 seasons in the NFL?
“Don’t let the age and the years fool you,” said the 5-11, 180-pound Ginn, who had 30 receptions for 421 yards (14.0 avg.) and two touchdowns for the Saints last season. “Just going in and knowing the game is slowing down a lot from first year to sixth year to now. And it gets even slower as you get into this playbook and start understanding what role you really have.”
Ginn’s role in coach Matt Nagy’s offense is pretty clear — filling the speed-receiver void created when the Bears cut Taylor Gabriel after last season. The Bears drafted Tulane speedster Darnell Mooney in the fifth round last month.
Though Ginn was the Saints’ second-leading receiver behind AP offensive player of the year Michael Thomas last season, the Saints moved on. Ginn said he had a couple of opportunities in free agency, but the Bears showed the most interest.
“Being at this age and having a want for you is a crazy, amazing feeling,” Ginn said. “[Nagy’s] a great coach. Very down-to-earth, trusting his players a lot. Trusting his system a lot. Willing to work with you and how you play.”
Ginn’s athletic ability has been carrying him for a long time. Playing for his father, Ted Ginn Sr., at Glenville High School in Cleveland, Ginn Jr. was a two-time national hurdles champion in track and USA Today’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 — with five touchdowns on interception returns as a defensive back. But he played wide receiver and returned kicks at Ohio State — tying an NCAA record as a freshman with four punt-return touchdowns. A month before the Bears’ Devin Hester became the first (and still only) player to return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown in 2007, Ginn returned the opening kickoff of the BCS Championship Game against Florida for a touchdown.
Ginn has mostly been a complementary offensive player in the NFL. His best season was in 2015 with the Panthers and Cam Newton, when he had 44 receptions for 739 yards (16.8 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. In 2017 with the Saints and Drew Brees, Ginn had 53 receptions for a career-high 787 yards (14.8 avg.) and four touchdowns.
Though Ginn has never made the Pro Bowl, he has played in the postseason nine times in 13 NFL seasons with five different teams, including eight of the last nine. He played in Super Bowl XLVII with the 49ers in 2013 and Super Bowl 50 with the Panthers in 2016.
But it’s not his veteran experience that makes him most valuable in the Bears’ offense. He knows why he’s here.
“I bring speed,” Ginn said. “I bring that element of stretching the field, so I know I’ll be helping that role. And then being able to catch things underneath. With us having a variety of guys that can do a lot of awesome things, we just have to wait for coach to put that thing together and then we’ll just figure it out.”