Devin Hester is looking for a new team. The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier that they have released the former All-Pro return man after two seasons with Atlanta.
Hester had a very good 2014 campaign for Atlanta. He led the league in kick return yards, scored a touchdown on a punt return (which set the NFL record for return TDs), and earned himself a spot on the Pro Bowl team.
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Unfortunately for Hester, 2015 was a struggle. He only managed to play in five games. His kick return average was still a solid 26.1 yards per return, but he struggled on punt returns. He only had 8 punt returns, but his yardage was a meager 4.3 yards per return with a long of 11 yards. In six of his previous nine seasons, his return average for the year was more than 11 yards.
Hester turns 34 in November, but apparently doesn’t have any interest in retiring right now. He would like at least one more season returning punts and seems confident that an NFL team will give him a chance.
Should Ryan Pace consider bringing back the former All-Pro? The Bears have plenty of questions in their return game and if Hester can return to even his 2014 form, he could absolutely help the Bears in 2016. But asking Hester to return to that form at this point is probably a bit of a long shot.
Even if Hester could make the team and help Chicago, is he worth a roster spot? Hester can’t play wide receiver at this point and at his age, he would only play for Chicago for only one season. There seems to be very little chance Hester has one productive season in him, let alone two.
The Bears do have two roster spots open after the retirement of Nate Chandler and the release of Omar Bolden, so in theory, they can give Hester a non-guaranteed invite and give him a shot to return punts and kicks. But the fact is, Ryan Pace is looking a the big picture for the Bears. Hester is a band aid in a return game that isn’t really broken, it just has question marks. Trying to catch lightning in a bottle one last time with Hester is a long shot at best and one that doesn’t fit into Pace’s plan.
If Hester changes his mind and decides to hang up his cleats, the Bears should absolutely sign him to a ceremonial contract so he can retire a Chicago Bear, that would be something that would be great to see. Remember, when Hester left Chicago originally, he was interested in staying in Chicago, potentially for less money, but Phil Emery wouldn’t even pick up the phone and call him. Hester has a bitter taste in his mouth about Chicago. Bringing him back to retire and giving him a spot in the ring of honor would be a way to bury the hatchet and leave his relationship with the franchise in good standing.
But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon for 2016. Hester still wants to play and if his agent calls up Ryan Pace and asks him about his client, Pace needs to politely decline.