The official ending of the Bears’ eight-year run, literally and figuratively, with Devin Hester arguably was set in motion last offseason when the Bears put in place their depth chart for 2013. They drafted Marquess Wilson in the seventh round and thought enough of him to keep him on the 53-man roster in addition to Eric Weems. Hester was not listed among receivers on the depth chart, and the plan to use him exclusively on returns was laid out last offseason.
When the Bears signed receiver/returner Chris Williams in December, any lingering questions regarding Hester’s future were effectively answered. An offense that ran the ball on fewer than 40 percent of its snaps needed more options on game days, and Hester was too one-dimensional at this point of his career.
The Bears kept Hester as a fourth pure specialist on top of a punter, kicker and long snapper. The problem was that he had zero value as a wide receiver in part because quarterback Jay Cutler had less than zero confidence in him. Tackle Eben Britton had a better chance of being a Cutler target as the extra tight end than Hester would.
That meant a game-day roster spot allocated for one more position that was not going to contribute on offense or defense even in anything short of a dire emergency.
Williams wasn’t signed to a futures contract. He was signed to a three-year contract and was a familiar face for coach Marc Trestman after playing against Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In 2012 he set a CFL record with six return touchdowns to go along with 1,117 punt-return yards and 83 receptions for 1,298 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns.
Lovie Smith and the organization have been faulted for misdirecting Hester into a role as a wide receiver. That’s not entirely accurate.
The Bears wanted the ball in Hester’s hands more after his rookie season, and he caught 20 passes, two for touchdowns and all for an average of 15.0 yards per catch. But Hester also wanted to be more than a returner, and it was agent Eugene Parker who negotiated a four-year extension in July 2008, at the outset of training camp.
The deal contained escalators that would have upped Hester to $10 million in each of the last two years of the deal. Hester didn’t reach the escalator requirements, and once it became clear that he and Jay Cutler weren’t in phase, he wasn’t going to.