When Devin Hester failed to report to training camp on time in July because he felt he had outplayed his contract and wanted it restructured, a line was essentially drawn in the sand.
On one side of the line were the people so enamored with the Pro Bowl kick returner for all the excitement and boost he had provided to the fans and his teammates that they wanted the Bears to give Hester whatever he wanted because they did not want to see him miss training camp — or worse, the season. They also did not want him to become alienated and want to leave town when his old contract had expired.
On the other side, the intelligent folks who knew that Hester had yet to prove himself as a receiver were aware that his 2008 base salary was about $445,000 and he would be fined $15,000 for each day of training camp he missed. Doing that math, he would run out of money in one month. Do you really think he would have held out that long?
But because the Bears reward their own — which is a noble and loyal quality — Jerry Angelo eventually broke his own unwritten rule — which is, don’t renegotiate contracts after only two accrued NFL seasons — and ended up caving into Hester’s pressure.
Now, the Bears not only have an unproven, unproductive, overpaid wide receiver, but he’s not even the best kick returner in the NFL anymore, and might not even be the best returner on his own team.
I’m not going to boldly proclaim that Danieal Manning is a better kick returner than Hester when all things are considered. But Manning clearly has the better desire and determination at this point than does Hester. And it’s because of the way Manning hits the wedge with a quicker burst than Hester that the Bears substituted Manning for Hester in the fourth quarter against the Packers on Sunday.
According to several sources, that may carry into this week’s game against St. Louis, where Manning is expected to continue returning kickoffs.
If I had my way, I would have stood my ground and let Hester continue to miss training camp practices. After all, returning kicks doesn’t require as much practice as other positions. I would have continued to dock him $15,000 a day until he realized his 2008 paycheck was going down the drain. He would have shown up eventually and then the Bears wouldn’t have had to cough up $30 million for him — $15 million guaranteed. The good news is that they probably won’t have to pay him a $10 million roster bonus in the final year of his contract because he’s not likely to meet the requirements of a No. 1 receiver.
Which brings me to my last point. The Bears are doing this backwards. They’re taking Hester off his return duties — at least on kickoffs — and having him focus his attention on playing receiver. They should be reducing — or eliminating — his role as a receiver and keeping him as a returner. If they hadn’t caved into his demands and overpaid him, they could have done just that because there are at least 3 wide receivers — not to mention, 2 tight ends — on this team that are more talented, smarter, and overall better receivers than Hester.
Then again, I’m just a fan and an analyst. What do I know that general manager Jerry Angelo doesn’t?