Bears won't re-sign Hester
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Chicago Bears - INSIDE SLANT
Devin Hester that the team would not be re-signing him for the 2014 season. Hester will become an unrestricted free agent March 11.
"For the past eight seasons we have been honored to have Devin Hester as a part of our organization," general manager Phil Emery said Thursday in a statement. "While Devin has redefined the pinnacle standard of the return position in the NFL, the memories and contributions he has given us cannot be measured by stats or numbers.
"Not only is Devin a special player, he is also an exceptional person. He is a great teammate, husband and father. Devin represented the organization off the field as well as he did on it. When his career is over, he will always be a welcome member of the Bears family. We thank him for his dedication and wish him and his family all the best."
Hester, 31, is the NFL's all-time leader in punt return touchdowns (13) and total kick return touchdowns (18). Including his 108-yard missed field goal return touchdown, Hester's 19 overall return touchdowns are tied with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for the most in regular-season history. When adding Hester's 92-yard kickoff return touchdown to open Super Bowl XLI, his 20 overall return touchdowns (including the postseason) are an NFL record.
In 123 games played (46 starts) over eight seasons (2006-13), Hester's 3,241 punt return yards are eighth most in NFL history and his 12.3 punt return average ranks fifth. He is the franchise's all-time leader in total return touchdowns, punt return touchdowns, punt return yards, kickoff return yards (5,504), total kick return yards (8,745) and second in all-purpose yards (11,632).
A three-time Pro Bowler (2006, 2007 and 2010 seasons), Hester was named to the 2000's All-Decade team by the Associated Press and ESPN.
Prior to the team's announcement, Hester had said, "From my knowledge, I know that Chicago wants to go a different route with me. All I can say is thanks to the fans for their support. They've always been great to me. Always been loyal. I couldn't have played for a better city than those guys. At the end of my career, I do want to retire as a member of the Bears."
He then was open in saying he hopes to land in Tampa Bay where his former head coach, Lovie Smith is coaching.
"I look at Lovie as my No. 1 coach right now because he's the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft," Hester said. "He has all my respect so if he's a guy that is going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open."
--With 25 players entering some form of free agency next month, second-year head coach Marc Trestman is prepared for another offseason of change.
Trestman said defensive end Julius Peppers, who if released would leave the Bears with $8 million in so-called dead money, "like a lot of us had 8-8 seasons." His return might require a restructured contract. Salary-cap money could be tight with veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton on the road to unrestricted free agency while rehabbing from season-ending injuries.
"He had very, very good moments and moments where he didn't play as well as he would have liked," Trestman said of Peppers.
The Bears will be primarily a 4-3 defense and retained coordinator Mel Tucker after briefly considering a 3-4 scheme.
"What we're doing is looking at the existing scheme and in the process of putting together a scheme that suits the players we will have," Trestman said. "We're not going to know who those players are going to be for quite some time."
Trestman said the Bears will be younger on defense, and general manager Phil Emery has bluntly pointed to investing draft picks to rebuild on that side of the ball.
One area of need is the secondary. Safety Major Wright is a free agent and arguably the most high-profile free agent, Tillman, said Tuesday he wants to return and the Bears want him back, but finances must be worked out.
"We know we're going to get younger," Trestman said. "For the most part, it's going to be a defensive-oriented draft in terms of where we're going."