LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Devin Hester is done returning kicks in Chicago.
The Bears confirmed Thursday that they are parting ways with the three-time Pro Bowl pick after eight seasons, confirming what he told the NFL Network the previous day. So instead of a return to Chicago, he’ll hit the market as a free agent.
General manager Phil Emery said it had been an honor to have Hester on the team.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Hester matched Hall of Famer Deion Sanders’ NFL record with his 19th return touchdown last season, tying his friend and mentor with an 81-yard punt return at Washington in October. It was Hester’s 13th punt return for a TD, extending his own record in that category.
He has also returned five kickoffs and a missed field goal for a touchdown.
Hester is best remembered by Bears fans for returning the opening kickoff in the 2007 Super Bowl for a touchdown. He ran it back 92 yards for a score in a game won by Indianapolis.
Hester endured several lulls on returns during his career, particularly when the Bears tried to make him a receiver. But he showed some of his old form while focusing solely on returns last season.
He’s the second Bears star to leave the team in as many years: Last May, linebacker Brian Urlacher announced his retirement after 13 seasons, all with the Bears. The eight-time Pro Bowler and the team were unable to reach a deal a year ago and he eventually decided to call it quits.