…it was to be. Prior to kicking off the first practice of training camp, the Bears announced that first-round pick Chris Williams was in the fold after signing a five-year contract.
“At least camp is starting perfectly,” I told co-workers. Several critical Bears were locked up with long-term contracts in the off-season: Tommy Harris, Robbie Gould and Lance Briggs. Free agents that can help immediately were signed: running back Kevin Jones and receivers Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd. Perhaps most importantly, castoffs were, well, cast off: Fred Miller and the hopelessly horrible Adam Archuleta.
Even what seemed like it would be training camp’s biggest issue: Brian Urlacher clamoring for more money-was resolved Tuesday when the Bear legend agreed to a one-year extension with up to $18 million in new money.
So when Williams signed, giving the Bears attendance by their entire 2008 draft class on the first day of camp, things looked perfect.
Then it was announced that Devin Hester will be holding out until he receives a new deal from the Bears. This isn’t Thomas Jones, Nathan Vasher and Briggs skipping offseason activities in 2006, or Urlacher grumbling but making no real threads. This is the announcement of a bona-fide holdout.
Kind of funny to me. I’m not worried. Yes, it will make Bear games a little less fun if Hester isn’t playing. Hester has absolutely no leverage, other than to sit out the first six games of each season in 2008-2009, getting fined huge amounts along the way. He would then be a free agent for 2010. I don’t have the NFL’s rules for fines near me, but if he chose to do this he’d make very little money (but still a fortune to a dope like me) over two seasons.
Hester is wonderful-the greatest kick returner in NFL history, and this would only be his third season. But the key is, Hester wants to be paid as if he’s a top wideout in the NFL. Sure, he’s shown promise with his speed as a receiver, but has also not fully absorbed everything that goes along with being a top receiver in the game, and still drops catchable passes.
The Bears have offered to make Hester the highest paid returner in the game, and in the history of the game. Hester’s camp wants top receiver money, that is to say at least the $42 million Bernard Berrian got over 6 years from the Vikings. There will be a compromise here. If Hester does hold out, as I said, oh well. He’s fun to watch, and hell, he has actually won the Bears a few games over the last couple years.
But I’ve agreed with those who have made the point that a kick returner will never make or break an organization. What speaks volumes about the Bears’ level of talent in 2007 was that a kick returner was their most valuable player/their best football player. As long as the kick returner is the best player on the Bears, his presence or absence will not make or break a Super Bowl appearance.