The Atlanta Falcons announced that they have released wide receiver/kickoff returner Devin Hester today. Hester served as the team’s return specialist the past two years but had been marred by a toe injury that forced him to miss 12 games in 2015. He missed the entirety of the offseason program recovering from surgery on that same foot and the Falcons opted to release him just ahead of the start of training camp, with their first practice this Thursday.
Hester was signed by the Falcons in 2014, having long established himself as one of the premier return specialists in NFL history during eight seasons with the Chicago Bears. Hester made the Pro Bowl three times as a returner with the Bears and did so a fourth time with the Falcons in 2014 when his 13.3 yards per punt return was one of the highest marks in the NFL. That season Hester also lead the NFL in kickoff return yards (1,128).
Hester leaves Atlanta as the NFL’s active leader in career punt returns (290), punt return yards (3,515) and the all-time leader in punt return touchdowns (14). His 20 non-offensive return touchdowns are also the most in NFL history, a record that Hester broke at the beginning of the 2014 season in a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hester’s release leaves the Falcons with three available roster spots for their 90-man training camp roster. It comes not far on the heels of the team reaching an injury settlement with center James Stone last week.
The team is expected to have seventh-round pick Devin Fuller as the front-runner to replace Hester as the Falcons’ returner this year. During his absence in 2015, wide receiver Eric Weems filled Hester’s shoes. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn indicated that fellow wide receivers Nick Williams and Justin Hardy, as well as running back Tevin Coleman will also be competing for return duties during this summer’s training camp.