Devin Hester, the most accomplished return man in NFL history, faces three to six months of recovery after undergoing surgery on his right big toe on Friday.
The Atlanta Falcons wide receiver/return specialist, who missed the first 11 games of the 2015 season as a result of injury, had the procedure performed by famed foot surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte.
Hester broke one of the two sesamoid bones, which act as a pulley for tendons. Such a bone helps the big toe move normally and provides leverage when the toe pushes off for walking and running.
Hester will wear a cast for the next three months before shedding it in favor of a walking boot. After a month in the boot, he’ll begin the actual rehab.
"The surgery, they said, went pretty good,’’ Hester told ESPN.com. "He put the sesamoid bone back in place, stitched around it, and put a little small pin in it. The ligaments should be able to heal back up.’’
Hester, 33, obviously wasn’t himself after initially suffering what was called a turf toe injury following the third preseason game at Miami. He was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, but his inability to push off and cut made him functionally ineffective through the last five games of the season. Hester returned nine kickoffs for a respectable 235 yards with a long of 35 yards. He returned eight punts for 34 yards with a long of 11.
He was not utilized on offense.
"It was just a matter of me trying to fight through it, especially those last five games,’’ Hester said. "I knew I was hurt. They knew I was hurt. But at the same time, I felt like I could push my way through. After the season, we knew there was a good chance of having the surgery. That’s how it pretty much went.’’
Hester is signed through next season and due to make $3 million in 2016 with cap figure of $3,833,334. Whether he passes a physical this offseason could determine his future with the team. Sixth months of recovery would give Hester enough time to be ready for training camp. If the Falcons opt to go in a different direction, it would save $3 million in cap space.
Hester, who wants to remain in Atlanta, firmly believes he still has enough left to be effective in whatever role once fully healthy. The former Chicago Bear made the Pro Bowl as a return man during his first season with the Falcons (2014).
"I signed a contract for three years and that’s what I want to do,’’ he said.
Hester owns the NFL record with 20 touchdown returns over his 10-year career.