NFC North: Lovie Smith. Marty Booker
|AP Photo/M. Spencer Green|
|Devin Hester has 11 returns for TDs in two seasons.|
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears insisted Wednesday they were blindsided by kick returner/wide receiver Devin Hester's decision to hold out from training camp. The Bears assume Hester is not happy with the pace of negotiations on a potential contract extension, but general manager Jerry Angelo said: "I really don't know why he isn't here today."
According to Angelo, one of Hester's agents "floated" the idea of a holdout earlier this week. Angelo, however, said he "didn't take it serious because we were still talking." Numbers were still being exchanged, Angelo said, when the decision was made.
"There was no closure," Angelo said. "Usually when you say, 'Hey, it's over, take it or leave it, we're out of money,' you might get a reaction like that. But continuing on into negotiations as we have been, it's surprising. ... We did tell Devin we were going to address his situation and we have. That's where it is. The timing of it maybe wasn't satisfactory to him, but those things kind of run their course."
That lack of urgency apparently set Hester off. He told the Chicago Tribune that the team wasn't "taking it seriously that I wanted to get a new deal." Hester went on to make this outlandish statement:
"You should pay me like I'm one of a kind. It's like dating a girl. When you find somebody that is real special, you're going to do whatever it takes to keep her. You might cut back on what you're giving your mom to give her. And that's how I feel they should treat me."
This broadside clearly caught the Bears off-guard and represents a huge setback on the first day of training camp. Coach Lovie Smith and his staff are planning to make Hester a full-time receiver while maintaining his role as the NFL's top returner. After the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Hester was going to get every opportunity to be the Bears' No. 1 receiver in 2008.
Hester, who has two years remaining on his contract, participated fully in the team's offseason program but still will need maximum training camp time to secure a smooth transition to receiver.
"I know he would like to be out here," Smith said. "He realizes how important his work is, especially for him becoming a full-time receiver."
Hester's absence left the Bears with an underwhelming group of receivers for the first practice of training camp. Veterans Marty Booker and Mark Bradley took the initial repetitions with the first team, while Brandon Lloyd and Rashied Davis also rotated in. The Bears ran plenty of plays for tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen, a pattern they figure to follow at least until Hester's situation gets resolved.
That could take some time, however. Angelo noted it is the team's right to fine Hester for every day he misses at a maximum of about $15,000 per day. Angelo also said the team has a policy that expects players to participate in camp while negotiating extensions. In other words, the Bears could stop negotiating altogether until Hester reports.
Angelo didn't sound like a general manager who wants to play hardball with one of his favorite players. What's also clear is the Bears never believed Hester would hold out until the minute they realized he wasn't here.