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Devin Hester to Ravens: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL pre season football game against the Miami Dolphins, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Associated Press

Devin Hester isn't done with the NFL just yet. The 33-year-old wide receiver and return man agreed to a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 4.

The Ravens announced the deal on Sept. 5 after Hester confirmed the agreement on his Instagram account Sunday. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the signing.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport later reported the agreement is worth a max of $4 million, including incentives, citing a source. On Thursday, Rapoport noted that the deal has a base value of $1.1 million.

Hester last played for the Atlanta Falcons. He missed most of the 2015 season with turf toe. When he returned to the field, the Falcons used him only on special teams. The four-time Pro Bowler returned nine kicks for 235 yards and eight punts for 34 yards.

In January, Hester had surgery to repair his right big toe. Atlanta then released him on July 26. Hester told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure that he wasn't in a rush to sign with another team: "Teams already have tried to sign me, but I'm not ready to go. We told teams that I'm not ready to practice, still rehabbing."

Hester added:

Some of the ligaments are still not healed up all the way. It's getting better now. [Running] straight ahead, I'm good. It's just when I start going lateral, my toe flares up. It's going to take time with that. I don't know if it's going to be a two-week process or three or maybe four. And I told [the Falcons] that. And I told them I wasn't signing the paper saying I was ready to play.

It's a business. I understand that. The healing process was supposed to be four to six months. It's been longer than what we expected.

Between his age and the fact that he's coming off a lengthy rehab from surgery, signing Hester comes with obvious risks. But even if his usage is limited to strictly special teams again, he could be a valuable member of the Ravens.

In 2011, the NFL moved kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line. That made return men less effective since touchbacks were much easier to attain for kickers. To put things in perspective, below is a look at the league leader in kickoff return yards and the number of 1,000-yard returners over the last 10 years, per ESPN.com:

The Decline of the Return Man
YearRet. Yards LeaderNo. of 1,000-Yard Returners
2006Chris Carr (1,762)14
2007Josh Cribbs (1,809)13
2008Josh Wilson (1,753)14
2009Danny Amendola (1,618)11
2010LaRod Stephens-Howling (1,548)16
2011Brandon Banks (1,174)4
2012David Wilson (1,533)8
2013Devin Hester (1,436)2
2014Devin Hester (1,128)1
2015Ameer Abdullah (1,077)2
Source: ESPN.com

Players like Hester, whose value is derived largely from his role in the return game, could make a comeback. ESPN.com's Matt Bowen explained how the NFL's decision to move touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line is changing the kickoff calculus for coaches:

Talking with some NFL coaches on Thursday, they want to use the "sky" kick more after this rule change. Put that thing up high in the air and drop it in the bucket near the goal line. Hey, even kick it to the corner and give yourself a bigger advantage. Nowhere to hide there. Let's go.

Why? It's field position. That's a never-ending battle in the pros, and five yards is too valuable to concede. Teams are going to change the way they game plan because of it.

Bowen argued that the rule could see the rise of what he called the "top-flight (and borderline crazy) coverage men." Along the same lines, teams may see Hester and other proven returners as more valuable.

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