When we last heard from Chicago Bears returner/receiver Devin Hester, he had backed off his threat to retire but was still suggesting he might benefit from a fresh start with another franchise. Tuesday, Hester used a post on his Instagram account to imply he has had a change of heart.
The post read: "For all my Bears fan #yes. I'm a bear 4 life.# Beardown!!!!!
(For those wondering, Hester verified this Instagram via Twitter in January.)
So what exactly does it mean that Hester is a "bear 4 life?" At this point, all we can say is that Hester expects to play for the Bears in 2013. Update: Many of you are wondering if Hester is saying he will be a "bear 4 life" even though he plans to move on to another team. I don't think that's the case, but I guess I should acknowledge that possibility. My understanding is that the Bears have plans for him in 2013 and don't want him to move on.
Entering this week, Hester had one year remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2008. It called for a $1.857 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus and a cap figure of $2.940 million. The Bears could lower that cap number a bit through either a reduction of that base salary or a contract extension, but as of Tuesday evening I've not confirmed that Hester has a new deal.
In the end, of course, it's difficult to predict the futures of most NFL players beyond the upcoming season, regardless of their contract status. What we can reasonably say is that, after a predictable emotional reaction to the Bears' coaching staff and his own stalled career as a receiver, cooler heads have prevailed. (At least, that's my take on it.)
It's not hard to imagine that new Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis would prefer Hester, the greatest returner in NFL history, on his team rather than elsewhere. It's not clear if the Bears have any plans for Hester on offense -- Bears general manager Phil Emery said last month at the NFL scouting combine that Hester will "compete to be our returner" -- but Hester might well be satisfied with that role.
The Bears have an established three-receiver set of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett and could add to it through the draft. I would back a decision to de-emphasize Hester from the Bears' offense to focus him as a returner. Using him in both roles always felt like burning the proverbial candle at both ends. As he approaches his 31st birthday, it's best for Hester and the Bears to understand what he is -- and isn't.