Analysis: Hester to leave after 8 seasons

The Chicago Bears’ decision to move on without Devin Hester is not a surprise.

There were no indications that general manager Phil Emery had given strong consideration to bringing back the three-time Pro Bowler return man, who has spent his entire eight-year NFL career in Chicago.

Hester can still play. He averaged 27.6 yards on 52 kickoff returns and brought back a punt for a touchdown last season, but he also counted $2,940,858 against the club’s 2013 salary cap.

That is simply too much salary cap space for a team to allocate to strictly a return man. The Bears tried it last year, and even though the results were hardly disastrous, the organization needs to pour its remaining free agency resources (after the Jay Cutler offseason deal) to shoring a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in many statistical categories in Mel Tucker’s first year as coordinator.

However, this news should not diminish Hester’s legacy.

There isn’t a Bears fan alive who will forget Hester’s electrifying 2006 rookie season, or when he returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a touchdown.

When Hester had a chance to return a punt or kickoff, fans rarely left their seats in the stadium or at home.

He will be remembered as one of former general manager Jerry Angelo’s best draft choices. Angelo once admitted to being “Hesterized” during the 2006 NFL draft process which led to the Bears selecting Hester in the second round out of Miami.

Who could blame him?

Hester helped the Bears win plenty of games and two division titles over his eight-year span and never embarassed the team with any off-the-field behavior problems.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating a player determined to prove people wrong. Several teams expressed interest in Hester last month at the combine, and a decent market is expected to develop for his services when free agency officially begins on March 11 at 3 p.m. CT.

Hester has plenty of ties around the league and his phone should be ringing from interested parties. The question, of course, becomes price. What will a team be willing to pay Hester after he pocked $2,107,523 from the Bears in 2013?

Hester could be in for a rude awakening if he believes a pay raise is on the horizon.

But these are issues for another day.

Hester should be celebrated from his accomplishments in a Bears’ uniform. Although he had his faults, like every player, Hester easily goes down as one of the most exciting athletes to play in Chicago since the end of the Bulls’ championship run in the late 1990s.

That is what people need to be talking about.