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Hester, Bears agree on four-year extension

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A half hour into his first practice of training camp Sunday, Devin Hester got behind cornerback Charles Tillman and hauled in a 40-yard pass from quarterback Rex Grossman.

It's the type of thing the Chicago Bears are hoping to see a lot during the regular season after signing Hester to a four-year contract extension, reportedly worth up to $40 million.


After just two seasons, Chicago's Devin Hester has already established himself as one of the best returners in NFL history:


» Name: Devin Hester         » Name:Brian Mitchell
» KO return TDs: 4             » KO return TDs: 4

» Punt return TDs: 7         » Punt return TDs: 9    


» Name:Dante Hall             » Name:Billy Johnson
» KO return TDs: 6            » KO return TDs: 2

» Punt return TDs: 6         » Punt return TDs: 6     

"I think the Bears have a lot of faith in me, and they feel that I do a lot of things on the offensive side of the ball, so they rewarded me," said Hester, who in two seasons is two touchdown returns short of Brian Mitchell's record of 13 kick or punt returns touchdowns -- a mark that took 14 years to set.

After a standoff between Hester's agent, Eugene Parker, and the team ended Sunday morning, Bears coach Lovie Smith wore a huge smile.

"I'm smiling most of the time I'm talking about Devin Hester; now I can ... a little bit more," Smith said after practice.

At issue for the Bears was whether to pay Hester like a return man or like a top wide receiver when they made him the 22nd player on the current roster to receive a contract extension. They converted Hester to wide receiver last year when he made 20 catches, and this year expect him to start in place of lost free agent wide receiver Bernard Berrian.

"This one was probably the most difficult one we've had to do and probably ever will do because we're not only rewarding a special player," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "If you look at it as a returner, we blew that (money total) out of the water. It was now looking at him as what he might be or could be as a receiver. That's where the real difficulties were and a real challenge."

It was a challenge that led Hester to hold out for two days before reporting Friday and watching from the sidelines for two days with what the Bears called a hamstring injury. After signing Sunday, he showed no signs of a hamstring pull.

"It's feeling great," Hester said of the hamstring. "It's a little tight, but I was able to push through it and just try to work it out and stretch it a lot. Right now I feel great. I wouldn't say it's a major issue."

The deal adds four years to the two years already remaining on Hester's contract.

The Bears this past year also negotiated contract extensions for kicker Robbie Gould, linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, tight end Desmond Clark, defensive end Alex Brown, and signed linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton to new deals.

"I don't think I've ever been this busy in an offseason, and I don't think I ever will again," Angelo said. "We did a lot, hopefully we accomplished a lot."

Angelo said it should be obvious now he wasn't just paying lip service to the notion that the Bears try to reward their own.

"Talk is cheap," Angelo said. "We put teeth into it. The good news is the players we have here want to be Bears. Certainly they want their money, we're all understanding of that, but they also make the commitment to me, to (coach) Lovie (Smith) and to our fans that they want to be Bears."

Now comes the task of turning Hester into a premier wide receiver. He struggled learning the offense at times last year.

"Last year he was a guy who was a return specialist, obviously, that was going to be a part-time player at receiver, play a little bit and have a small package in the offense for him," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "This year he's committed to being a full-time receiver and to learn the entire offense. We didn't hold anything back in the minicamp and (off-season workouts) so he's way ahead of where he was last year at this time. He's made that commitment and he's learned it and done a good job and we're excited to get him back out there."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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