Devin Hester will not return to the Chicago Bears next season, it appears.
Hester, 31, told NFL Network on Wednesday night that the team has told him it will not attempt to re-sign the free-agent return specialist.
The man who is tied with Deion Sanders all-time with 19 combined returns for touchdowns will become a free agent on Tuesday and will look to find a new home.
“From my knowledge, I know that Chicago wants to go a different route with me,” Hester said. “All I can say is thanks to the fans [for] the support. Always been great to me, always been loyal. I couldn’t want to play for a better city than those guys.”
On Thursday, the Bears confirmed the news. GM Phil Emery wished Hester luck and thanked him for eight seasons in Chicago.
“For the past eight seasons we have been honored to have Devin Hester as a part of our organization,” Emery said. “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.
“Not only is Devin a special player, he is also an exceptional person. He is a great teammate, husband and father. Devin represented the organization off-the-field as well as he did on it. When his career is over, he will always be a welcome member of the Bears family. We thank him for his dedication and wish him and his family all the best.”
Hester's former coach, Lovie Smith, has landed in Tampa Bay and could provide a landing spot. Hester cried when Smith gave his exit press conference, and the two remain close. The Buccaneers were only so-so on returns last season with second-year receiver Eric Page primarily handling those duties.
Hester averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 14.2 yards per punt return last season, and his 81-yard punt return score against the Redskins tied Sanders’ all-time mark. Hester also went to high school and college (at Miami) in Florida
If he breaks Sanders' mark, it will be with another team. Hester talked about a possible Lovie reunion in Tampa on the broadcast.
“I look at Lovie as my number one coach right now,” Hester said. “Because he’s the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft. He has all of my respect so if he’s a guy who is going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open.”
Hester also posted a goodbye message to Bears fans on his Facebook page:
To all my Chicago people...I can't thank you all enough for my time in Chicago. I've always said I wanted to retire a Chicago Bear but sometimes things don't work out the way we would like. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart and if I am fortunate enough to break the return record, we will have all broken it together...no matter where I am. Thank you again and God Bless.
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