Devin Hester done with Bears — off to Lovie, Buccaneers?
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter March 5, 2014 10:17PM
CHICAGO, IL - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Updated: March 6, 2014 9:57AM
Devin Hester won’t play for the Bears next season.
Perhaps the game’s greatest kick returner of all time acknowledged Wednesday night what signs had pointed to all offseason.
“From my knowledge,” he said on NFL Network, “I know Chicago wants to go a different route with me.”
That means letting Hester sign with another team when free agency begins Tuesday.
It could be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hester called former Bears coach Lovie Smith, now the Bucs’ boss, “my No. 1 coach right now because he’s the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft.”
In a Facebook post to fans, Hester wrote, “Sometimes things don’t work out the way we would like,” and said that, if he snaps the tie for most career touchdown returns with Deion Sanders (19), “we will have all broken it together.”
He wants to retire as a Bear one day.
In his eighth year with the Bears, the 31-year-old led the NFL with a career-high 1,436 kick-return yards. Focusing solely on returning duties, Hester averaged 27.6 yards, fifth-best in the league.
In Week 2, he set a franchise record with 249 return yards.
Hester reached three Pro Bowls and will be best remembered for returning the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a score.
His salary — Hester made $2.1 million last season — was prohibitive on a squad that has to makeover its defense. The Bears have a potential replacement: Chris Williams, whom they signed off the Saints’ practice squad in Week 17.