Devin Hester agrees to 3-year deal with Falcons; Wootton to Vikings
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter March 20, 2014 10:09PM
Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester returns a kickoff during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. Chicago won 38-31. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Updated: April 22, 2014 6:37AM
Dates haven’t been released, but the Bears’ reunion tour kicks off in the fall of 2014.
Former coach Lovie Smith, defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Henry Melton and backup quarterback Josh McCown will be there.
And after Thursday, so will returner Devin Hester and defensive end Corey Wootton.
Hester agreed to a three-year deal with the Falcons, who host the Bears in 2014, and Wootton got a one-year deal from the Vikings.
The Bears will have to contain Hester, who’s looking for his record-breaking 20th return touchdown, and coach Marc Trestman will have to match wits with Smith (now with the Buccaneers). Offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills will have to keep Peppers (now with the Packers) off Jay Cutler.
The Bears have been stockpiling players with a special-teams pedigree — safeties Craig Steltz and Danny McCray, cornerback Sherrick McManis and linebacker Jordan Senn — and now they’re faced with corralling the most famous special-teamer in team history.
Veteran receiver Domenik Hixon, second-year running back Michael Ford and former Canadian Football League star returner Chris Williams will compete for Hester’s old spot.
With a specialized role, Hester said he felt rejuvenated in 2013. He averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and scored on an 81-yard punt return against the Redskins.
Hester was a holding penalty away against the Rams from scoring his 20th return touchdown in his regular-season career and breaking his tie with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
“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,” general manager Phil Emery said.
It remains to be seen how the Falcons will use Hester, who turns 32 in November. He never developed into the No. 1 receiver that Smith and other members of his staff envisioned.
But Hester might be looking at a second chance with the Falcons’ offense, which already features two standout receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, in a gimmick role. His best season at receiver came in 2009, when he had 57 catches for 757 yards and three touchdowns.
That said, Hester, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was signed to spark the Falcons’ return game. Atlanta averaged 24.4 yards per kick return and 8.3 yards on punt returns last season.
As for Wootton, who’s coming off hip surgery, his chances of being re-signed by the Bears diminished after veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije returned on a one-year deal.
After getting a career-high seven sacks in 2012, Wootton started opposite Peppers last season, but injuries forced him inside to tackle, and his production fluctuated.