In the hours after the Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith, it was fair to expect anger and even empty threats from a group of players who had grown close to him over the years. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, for one, freely acknowledged that "we're going to say things that we don't mean."
So I didn't make much of kick returner/receiver Devin Hester's claim that he was considering retirement. Neither did Bears general manager Phil Emery, who said Tuesday that he doesn't anticipate Hester walking away. "That was an emotional situation that evoked an emotional response," said Emery, who added: "There will be a time when his emotions clear."
It's worth pointing out, however, that Hester has now said on multiple occasions that Smith's firing isn't the catalyst for his current mindset. He implied that his failure to emerge as a consistent receiver -- or perhaps the failure of the Bears to cultivate those skills -- has taken the fun out of playing for him.
Hester said Monday that retirement has "been something on my mind for two years" and added: "Not being able to showcase my talents the way I want them to be able to be showcased, it's stressful."
Tuesday, Hester tweeted: "Let me make myself clear the reason why I feel like retiring has nothing to do with Lovie Smith Getting fired. … It's hard to play this game when you're not happy or having fun At what you love to do in life."
Football is a business above all else, and we should note that Hester is entering the final year of a contract that calls for him to earn about $2.1 million in 2013. We could be cynical and suggest Hester could be setting himself up to be lured back via a contract extension by a new coach who wants to maintain a Hall of Fame presence as a returner, if nothing else.
I don't know if that's the case. There have certainly been instances of established 30-year-old players walking away from the game for health, passion or other reasons. And if Hester's feelings truly are unrelated to Smith's departure, then this issue runs deeper than reactive emotion. Maybe Devin Hester just doesn't like playing football anymore. He has earned more than $20 million in his NFL career. Most players want to squeeze every last dollar and year out of their careers, but Hester might not be wired that way.