This year's NFL free agent period will officially begin next week on Tuesday, March 12. There are plenty changes abound in the Bay Area, as the San Francisco 49ers are expected to let a number of their unrestricted free agents walk outright. All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson headlines the group, but he may be just one of many.
Randy Moss and Ted Ginn Jr. are two more contributors that are on their way out. This does create a need at wide receiver, and with Ginn on the chopping block, the 49ers will be minus a return specialist.
When Ginn first joined the 49ers, there was the hope that he could develop as a receiver. But when San Francisco came to terms with his limitations, the former first-rounder became an electric returner.
He was extremely valuable in 2011, when Jim Harbaugh and company saw first-hand how important it was to have dynamism on special teams. He played integral roles in wins against Seattle and Detroit that year. Unfortunately, Ginn lost his touch this past season and saw almost no time on the field.
This now puts San Francisco in a position where they have to look to add competition.
At the conclusion of 2012, Chicago Bears wide receiver and return specialist Devin Hester seemed to have lost all hope. After starting 7-1, the Bears experienced quite a fall, losing 5 of their next 6 in the late months leading up to the postseason.
Hester was improperly utilized by the team, which was frustrating in itself. But after it was all said and done, the firing of head coach Lovie Smith seemed to really strike a nerve. In early February, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reported that he might be seeking a trade from Chicago, citing Hester's desire for a "fresh start."
The 49ers are in a perfect position to provide him with the "change of scenery" he feels he needs. The Niners have cultivated a winning environment, which would be quite refreshing given postseason struggles Chicago has had as of recent.
Moreover, there should be a mutual interest here. The 49ers need an electric return man and Hester needs a competent coaching staff to put him to work.
And for those questioning whether he can still produce, Hester has returned six touchdowns since 2010. He is the all-time return man in NFL history and has a few good years left in him. Since he wasn't an every down player for Chicago, having watched a lot of offense from the sideline, Hester does not have a ton of mileage.
Why He Fits
As we mentioned, the 49ers need a return specialist. At the moment, Kyle Williams and LaMichael James are the only two real candidates to handle return duties. And Williams is coming off a season-ending injury, while James is looking to fill a bigger role on offense.
It would be foolish to lean on James in his second year as the primary returner. Not only could he use the help, but he could use some tutelage from an established veteran. Hester could come in and compete at the position, showing James the nuances that come with the return game.
Hester could also bring the home run threat on special teams back to San Francisco. Ginn's year in 2011 was exciting and productive, so it would be nice to have that element back. It also wouldn't be surprising to see him involved on offense, perhaps operating out of the backfield and the slot.
And not to mention, the 49ers are currently flush with draft picks. And what is appealing about Hester is that as a 30-year-old one-dimensional player, Trent Baalke could get him at a steal. It wouldn't take more than a mid-to-late round pick or two.
And with new head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears may be open to the idea knowing they can get some more ammunition for his first draft.
Hester would not command a high pick like Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin, and he would not hold out for a substantial contract once he arrived in the Bay Area. This could be a win-win-win deal, where the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Devin Hester all get what they want.