Wide receiver signs four-year contract worth $2.103 million

Fourth-round draft choice Ryne Robinson, the speedy wide receiver who the Carolina Panthers are counting on to resuscitate the league's worst return game, has signed his first NFL contract.

The former Miami (Ohio) star, who was the 118th player selected overall this year, signed a four-year contract worth $2.103 million. The deal includes a signing bonus of $438,305 and minimum NFL base salaries of $285,000 (for 2007), $370,000 (2008), $460,000 (2009) and $550,000 (2010). There is an escalator by which Robinson can increase his 2010 salary if he reaches certain playing time and performance thresholds.

Carolina coaches expect another rookie wide receiver, second-round pick Dwayne Jarrett of Southern California, to compete for playing time and possibly for the starting job created by the release of veteran Keyshawn Johnson early this spring. But it is Robinson, an undersized (5-feet-9, 179 pounds) but lightning-quick player, they hope can revive their return game.

In 50 college games, Robinson averaged 13.9 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 121 punt returns. He logged only eight kickoff returns at Miami, for an average of 16.9 yards, but will be auditioned by the Panthers in training camp for that position as well.

The Panthers ranked last in the league in 2006 in both kickoff return average (19.4 yards) and punt return average (4.6 yards) and did not have a touchdown in either area. Carolina's longest punt return of the season was for 24 yards and the Panthers had only two kickoff runbacks of more than 30 yards. Upgrading the return element of their special teams play was an oft-state offseason priority.

It appears that Robinson, 22, will be afforded the first shot at addressing those shortcomings.

Despite his lack of size, Robinson was a proven playmaker in the college ranks, and he was timed at 4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the predraft combine workouts.

In addition to his return skills, Robinson, who has said his role model in Panthers star wide receiver Steve Smith, is a solid pass-catcher. He had 258 receptions for 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns at Miami. Robinson established new school records for receptions and receiving yards and ranks third in Mid-American Conference history in touchdown catches. His 5,656 all-purpose yards are the fifth most in conference history.

The Panthers have now reached contract terms with two of their eight draft choices.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.