Not to look too far ahead—there’s still an entire season left to play—but one point of concern that I have heard from Bears fans has to do with Devin Hester’s contract situation. (If it’s not one contract situation, it’s another, right?) Also of concern: his role on offense and special teams.
Let’s look at both . . .
No, Hester’s not looking for more money (at least not yet), but one quick look at his 2013 salary might be cause for concern. In 2013, Hester’s base salary will be $1,857,523, coupled with a $10,000,000 roster bonus. Yes, I said $10M. But that’s just at first glance.
The good news is that $10M bonus is “de-escalating.” Which means—in Hester’s case—it’s performance based. If he fails to live up to the performance goals, the bonus de-escalates.
When the contract was initially signed, the large bonus was contingent on Hester’s numbers at wide receiver being consistent with a No. 1. Don’t worry, the numbers aren’t even close. Exactly what those performance goals are, I don’t know, but you can bet they’re spelled out.
Given Hester’s salary and cap figure this season ($2,729,333), I’d guess (and keep in mind, this is only a guess), that his bonus in 2013 may de-escalate by as much as 90%. Meaning, that $10M now looks closer to $1M; putting Hester’s 2013 cap figure somewhere around $2.9M.
That could change drastically (always keep that in mind). But the point is that the Bears can probably live with his 2013 salary, although, Hester will be looking for extended paper next season.
Role on offense and special teams
When new GM Phil Emery brought in Pro Bowl kick returner Eric Weems, fans immediately speculated on Hester’s future. But Emery quickly squashed the idea that Weems was a Hester “replacement,” saying he was, instead, a Hester “supplement.”
“The Bears have a very strong tradition of having multiple returners and having more than one weapon as a punt and kick returner,” Emery said. In the wake of Johnny Knox’s career threatening injury, the Weems move had more to do with that than it did Hester. Weems can also play WR, and while he’s expected to, he won’t have a big role on offense.
But then the Bears added WR Devin Thomas to the mix, another strong return-man. When one plays connect-the-dots with the whole puzzle (new returners, high cap figure, Brandon Marshall compliment, etc.), it starts to look as if the Bears—yet again—intend to showcase Hester on offense . . .despite his underperformance at the position.
It’s even possible that, despite the extension they gave Earl Bennett last season, Hester could be their initial No. 2 in 2012. Bennett’s cap number this season is a full million dollars under Devin’s ($1,600,000), and while Hester is pulling double-duty, they’d like to pull the extra receiver value out of the receiver-esque contract they gave Hester in 2008.
For those who wonder what might be the best way to utilize Hester on offense, Matt Bowen of the National Football Post offered a great perspective on how the Bears could do just that this week.
But don’t fret, big offensive role or not, Hester will still handle duties as full-time punt returner.
But wide receiver or not (so far it appears not), Hester is an incredible asset to the Chicago Bears. The mere threat imposed by his presence has helped the Bears win football games. So, in the spirit of that, and just for fun, here are some cool Hester stats I put together for you. And also, his complete return for touchdown list:
- Devin Hester has at least one return for touchdown against 12 of the existing 32 NFL teams (that’s 37.5%). More than a third of the League understands the Hester factor first-hand.
- The Chicago Bears win, statistically, 76.5% of games in which Hester has a return for touchdown.
- The Chicago Bears have won 17 total games in which Hester had a return for touchdown through four separate seasons (’06, ’07, ’10, and ’11). Broken down evenly, that’s 25% of their games each season.
- The Chicago Bears have won four games as a direct result of a Devin Hester return for touchdown. Through every season in which he had scored one, that’s one win per season squarely on Hester’s shoulders.
- No team has allowed more Hester returns for touchdowns than the Minnesota Vikings (4). There’s one division opponent who will never purposely kick to Hester again. They have two each against the Lions and Packers.
- The only teams to have allowed more than one Hester return for touchdown outside the NFC North are the Denver Broncos (which both came in the same game in 2007, against the infamous Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall duo) and the St. Louis Rams (which both came in the same game in 2006).
Hester returns for TDs
*The return for TD against the Giants in 2006 was the result of a botched field goal not a punt or kick.
**The return for TD against the Colts in 2007 was during Super Bowl XLI (not a regular season stat).
Of course, these are just “fun” stats, and I’m not suggesting they mean everything they may seem to suggest. But the case can also be made how the Hester factor has given the Bears offense excellent field position from the moment he became recognized as “ridiculous.” How many games have the Bears won because of that? Who knows, really. Some seasons they have done a poor job of capitalizing on that field position, other seasons they have done a good job.