Devin Hester will go down as one of the greatest return men in history and a beloved figure in the eyes of Bears fans for years to come. What he did for Chicago was fun, electric and past its due date.
This is in no way a shot at Hester or a knock on his career. It was Jerry Angelo and not Hester who decided to give a return man a four-year contract worth nearly $22 million.
It was Lovie Smith who felt compelled to justify the money given to Hester by turning into him into a wide receiver. This was the only move worse than actually paying the guy.
When it comes with Hester you have to look at the good and the bad. When he was on, he would do things like put up 11 return touchdowns in his first two seasons. When Hester was off, he would follow those first two seasons with zero touchdowns.
Sadly the 31-year-old was more bad than good these last couple of years. Hester had only one touchdown in the return game in the past two seasons. Worst of all, he was no longer feared by other teams.
Teams still kept the football away from Hester in punt returns but keep in mind the Bears defense wasn’t exactly getting off the field on third down.
Hester was outplayed in the return game by guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Trindon Holliday Jeremy Ross and current free agent Dexter McCluster.
Is wasn’t that Hester was effective anymore but it came down to his lack of value at any other position. Holliday and Ross are primary return men only but they also make a paltry $480,000 per year. Hester brought in nearly $3 million last season after his base and various bonuses are added up.
Remember, Hester not only cost quite a bit of money but he also took a roster spot. That’s one less wide receiver, safety, running back or cornerback the Bears had because of his spot. It was OK to justify that back in 2006 or 2007 but not in 2014 with a player on the decline.
It’s plain and simple. The Bears can find a player like Devin Hester late in the draft or as a rookie free agent and pay him pennies on the dollar.
If they want to splurge a little, they can bring in the aforementioned Dexter McCluster. He had two punt returns for touchdowns last season and added 53 receptions with two receiving touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even splurging a little on McCluster will cost the Bears less than what they paid Hester last year. At least with McCluster they get a slot receiver they so desperately need.
In the end, Hester became a shell of himself. There were still flashes of brilliance but like Tiger Woods these days, nobody really feared Devin Hester. The five fumbles last season and running backwards only to get tracked down by a gunner just as fast signaled the end.
There are more holes on the Bears defense than a slice of Swiss cheese. Paying even $1 million to Hester would’ve been a mistake. The team would’ve been overpaying for a job quickly becoming just a tool in a much larger arsenal of weapons.
Even still, Hester’s time in Chicago was great. He electrified the crowd and made sure you never got out of your seat until you saw what he did with the football. He’s the kind of player you will always talk about to younger people who never saw him. Devin Hester’s name is one that will come up in debates over a few beers about whether he was the best, who would win in a race or does he belong in the Hall of Fame?
Where does Hester end up next? Early indications might point to Tampa Bay with his old coach Lovie Smith but not so fast. Eric Page had a nice season returning kicks for them last year and a team who won only four games has more pressing issues than a return specialist. Keep an eye on Kansas City. They need to replace McCluster and Hester’s old special teams coach Dave Toub is there and would welcome him with open arms.