Each day from now until March 7, the day before teams can talk to agents for free agents, Geoff Mosher and Reuben Frank will profile some of the NFL’s top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Eagles.
Devin Hester, return specialist/wide receiver
Last team: Chicago Bears
The greatest return specialist of his generation, Devin Hester won’t be returning to Chicago, where he’s played since the Bears picked him in the second round (57th) out of Miami in 2006 and converted him from a college cornerback to a wide receiver. Hester immediately stormed onto the scene in the return game, leading the NFL in punt returns (47), return yards (600) and punt return TDs (3) as a rookie along with kick return TDs (2). Hester had four more punt return TDs in his second season and two more kick return TDs, giving him 11 TD returns in his first two seasons, the most in NFL history for a return specialist in his first two years.
Hester, a three-time Pro Bowler, is the NFL’s all-time leader in punt return yards and punt return TDs. He ranks fifth all-time in kick return TDs. He’s a three-time first team All Pro. Now for the other news: Hester never developed into a fearsome receiver. In his best receiving year, he caught 57 passes for 757 yards. His most receiving TDs in a season are four. Last year, he didn’t play a single snap on offense for the Bears. He made $1,857,523 last year in base salary.
There’s a very real chance Hester will be enshrined in Canton someday as special teams mavens continue to get more respect for their impact on the game. No question he’s the most explosive returner I’ve ever seen for an extended period of time, right up there with Prime Time, but I really don’t think the Eagles are gonna knock at his door. With just 53 roster spots, 46 on game day, Chip Kelly prefers versatility from his players. Right now, Hester is exclusively a return man -- and an aging one. Although he led the NFL last year in kickoff returns, kickoff return yards and averaged 14.2 yards per punt return, Hester doesn’t bring enough value. Very tempting, but I think the Eagles pass.
You can’t argue Hester’s legacy. His 18 combined return touchdowns are tied with Deion for the NFL record. Anybody who watched the Bears over the last decade knows how terrifying it is to see Hester back there, ready to field a punt or kick and dazzle his way through traffic. But the reality is Hester is 31, and although he’s still a productive returner, he’s not what he used to be. From 2006 through 2011, he had 17 touchdowns, or one every 24 returns. The last two years, he has one TD, or one every 136 returns. Hester wouldn’t help on offense, either. Maybe a few years ago, but not anymore. The one reason you’d bring him in is for touchdowns in the return game, and if those aren’t happening, there really is no point. Would be very exciting to see him back at the goal-line wearing a No. 23 Eagles jersey ready to field a kickoff, but I just don’t see it happening.