- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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While Chicago's decision to part ways with Devin Hester underscores the sentiment of almost every player out there that the NFL is a tough business, don't feel sorry for him because he's still got plenty of gasp-inducing returns to dazzle you with.
It's just we no longer get the audio gold dug up when Chicago Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak calls Hester “ridiculous.”
We no longer have to listen to that ridiculous song “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)” when Hester lines up to field a punt or kickoff.
In the lead-up to free agency, neither general manager Phil Emery nor head coach Marc Trestman ever gave any strong indication the Bears wanted to bring back Hester for a ninth year in Chicago. So the move Wednesday and the corresponding statement of appreciation from the organization on Thursday didn't come as a surprise.
Clearly, Hester isn't the return man he once was. But he's still better than at least 95 percent of his return-specialist peers around the league, which is why some team -- perhaps even Tampa Bay under former Bears coach Lovie Smith -- is sure to snatch up Hester as soon as free agency hits on March 11. In fact, his agent, Eugene Parker, should be waiting by the phone when the negotiation window opens March 8 because he should get plenty of calls looking to add some pop to their return games.
Hester averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns last season, and took a punt 81 yards to the house against Washington. In fact, Hester ripped off runs of 20 yards or more on four of his 18 punt returns last season. So clearly, he's still got it. The Bears just didn't want it because of the associated cost paired with the lack of versatility.
A Bears source said on Thursday that Hester is loved and respected within the organization and that “things would be different” for his chances in Chicago if he had a true position on offense or defense. The club tried on numerous occasions over the years to give Hester opportunities to find roles on offense and defense.
Hester was unable to capitalize and counted $2.94 million against the club's cap in 2013, which is too much for a return specialist, regardless of his Hall of Fame résumé.
That shouldn't diminish Hester's legacy, as he's almost a lock to add to it with his next team.
Chalk the situation up to it being one of the harsh realities permeating the business side of the NFL.
Interestingly, Hester's story in Chicago comes almost full circle in a weird way. When the team was in the draft room discussing whether to select Hester in the second round back in 2007, the club's personnel men, like the rest of the league, were hesitant to take a chance on the return man because he wasn't a proven commodity at any set position on offense and defense.
Throughout that process, Smith was open-minded and receptive, which is part of the reason Hester landed in Chicago in the first place.
Perhaps it'll be Smith that gives Hester his next job.