Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester (23) looks for running room during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Welcome to Free Agency 2014, a series of articles designed to discuss which players the Chicago Bears should attempt to keep in the fold for next season, and which players they should bid adieu to as they attempt to work through a tough salary cap situation.
Today’s player is kick returner Devin Hester.
If you were to ask a Bears fan what their favorite memory of the team is over the past decade, odds are that the moment they choose would involve Devin Hester in some way.
Whether it was the insane comeback against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night football in 2006, or his opening kickoff touchdown in Super Bowl XLI, or even his threats to retire after the firing of Lovie Smith as head coach (okay, maybe not that one), Hester has been part of plenty of history during his tenure in the Windy City, but all of that may be about to change.
That’s because Hester’s 4-year deal with the Bears, which at its peak carried a $6.833 million cap hit in 2010, has expired after the 2013 season. Hester had a decent year for the Bears, scoring his first return touchdown since 2011 and leading the league in average yards per kickoff return. Overall, he returned 70 kickoffs and punts for 1698 yards for the Bears.
Now though, Hester’s tenure with the team is a giant question mark. With the club currently in a bit of a salary cap crunch thanks to a combination of long-term money being given to guys like Jay Cutler and Tim Jennings, as well as the dead money that is inevitably going to be carried when the Bears start slicing and dicing contracts off their books, Hester is nowhere near the front of the line when it comes to guys that the Bears are considering handing fresh coin to.
The question, then, is whether or not the Bears should make it a priority to bring Hester back. After all, having a guy on the roster who does nothing but return punts and kicks isn’t the most effective allocation of resources in today’s NFL, but there rarely are guys who are capable of breaking the big play quite as often as Hester has in his career. Granted, those return touchdowns, once a gushing waterfall of scoring, have now gone drier than the Sahara Desert, with his touchdown in 2013 serving as merely an oasis in a land largely devoid of scoring.
Of course, you can’t just look at the numbers that Hester puts up in the touchdown category to prove his worth. After all, teams still kick away from Hester at times, and even when they don’t, his average return number is still very good even for a guy who isn’t getting to the end zone quite as much. Additionally, Hester did have a couple of return touchdowns called back because of penalty (thanks, Craig Steltz), so it isn’t like he is fully incapable of getting to the end zone.
Unfortunately though, the Bears aren’t in a position where they can afford much more than a 1-year, low-guaranteed money deal for Hester. They have guys on the roster like Eric Weems who are capable of returning kicks, and because of that expendability that Hester now has, it’s probably time that the team parts ways with him.
Jeff Joniak may no longer be able to say “DEVIN HESTER YOU ARE RIDICULOUS” on his return touchdowns, but the Bears will be better off having some financial freedom to pursue other avenues rather than trying to come up with money to sign a guy that is more of a luxury item than a necessity.