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Devin Hester Heading To Free Agency: 'Chicago Wants To Go A Different Route'

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 6, 2014 3:00PM

After a record-setting eight-year career in a Chicago Bears uniform, return specialist Devin Hester appears headed toward free agency when his contract expires next Tuesday. Hester told Tribune sports columnist David Haugh Wednesday, “From my knowledge, I know that Chicago wants to go a different route with me.”

All good things, the wisdom holds, come to an end.

The Bears drafted Hester in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft as a cornerback but viewed him mainly as a returner based on his skill set. As a rookie Hester played a prominent role in the Bears NFC championship run as he established himself as a threat on special teams. He returned a combined five punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns, had 23 returns of longer than 20 yards and six returns for 40 yards or longer. Hester proved his rookie season wasn’t a fluke the following season with another six return touchdowns.

Things started to sour a bit in 2008 when Hester complained about his contract. The Bears later rewarded him with a four-year extension worth nearly $40 million and coach Lovie Smith began inserting Hester into the Bears offense in an attempt to capitalize on his playmaking ability. Hester became the de facto number one wide receiver with the 2009 acquisition of quarterback, which contributed prominently in his reduced effectiveness as a returner. Hester was later relegated mainly to punt returns where he sort of bounced back and last season averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 14.2 yards per punt return while tying Deion Sanders’s NFL record for career return touchdowns with 19.

Hester posted a message on Facebook Wednesday night thanking fans for his time in Chicago.

I've always said I wanted to retire a Chicago Bear but sometimes things don't work out the way we would like. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart and if I am fortunate enough to break the return record, we will have all broken it matter where I am. Thank you again and God Bless.

Hester told Haugh he would love to land in Tampa Bay and reunite with Smith. But at what price? Few teams are willing to overpay Hester to be a return specialist and there's now evidence he can't concentrate on that and be a receiver. As for the Bears, the decision to let Hester test the free agent waters is probably a prudent one. The move saves them more money to re-tool a defense that was exposed as aging and injury prone last season. The Bears also cut ties with punter Adam Podlesh Wednesday and will soon make a decision on the future of defensive end Julius Peppers with the team.