Devin Hester, the Windy City Flyer, is regarded as the greatest NFL return man in the history of the game, and is still only 31 years old with no major injuries to his credit. Feasibly, it’s a possibility that he could continue to return at a relatively high level for a few more years and someone will pay him to do it.
However, should the Chicago Bears be the ones to make that move and retain him?
Hester is due to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the Bears have quite a few holes besides kick and punt return man to fill.
The main priorities of the next four months or so definitely reside on the defensive side of the ball, and they do have a couple of guys in Eric Weems and Michael Ford who could potentially handle the return duties pretty well. It really comes down to how much money is Hester looking for, and how much would the market be willing to offer him?
First off, it’s clear that his only role on any team resides on special teams. He cannot play wide receiver, and it’s been years since he played defensive back. So, which ever team he signs with, his responsibilities will be as a returner — and all teams around the league know this. Therefore, it’s understandable that teams wouldn’t want to break the bank for him.
Of course, looking at his production over the past couple seasons might also shy teams away from giving out anything more than a couple million (at most) in salary space for the former Miami Hurricane.
In the past two years, Hester only has one return touchdown, but his averages this year were exemplary at 27.6 on kickoffs and 14.2 on punts. However, he did fumble five times as well. That’s quite a bit for someone who only touched the ball 70 times.
Just watching him, you can see that his vision and agility are still terrific, but it’s also apparent that his second gear has left him. Some of his longer returns in 2013 were stopped short where in his younger days it would’ve been expected that he take it to the house.
So, what this all boils down to is, is he worth it?
In my opinion, yes. He can probably be brought back on a one- or two-year deal that’s relatively team-friendly at less than $2 million per season, as there really isn’t too much question that he’d like to stay in Chicago.
Not to mention teams still game plan for him. While he may not have the potential to rack up three or more touchdowns in a season in the return game any longer, his role in the field position game is huge and helps the offense greatly. And don’t forget, Hester is only one return TD away from breaking Deion Sanders‘ record of 19 total return scores, and it’d be great to see him do it all in a Bears jersey. That may just be a sentimental thought, but it’s still a factor.
The lack of injury history, fact that he’s still putting up very good return averages and reasonable price are all good reasons why GM Phil Emery would be making a smart decision to keep him around.