"I'm not coming," Hester told the Chicago Tribune in a phone interview. "I have to make a statement. I showed by going to (organized team activities) that I was a team player. But then, I just felt like they weren't taking it seriously that I wanted to get a new deal."
Hester, who also played wide receiver last season, has two years remaining on his initial deal. He was the Bears' second round-draft pick in 2006.
In addition to his four kickoff returns and seven punt returns for touchdowns over two seasons, he also returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a TD and took the opening kickoff of the 2007 Super Bowl 92 yards for a score.
As a receiver last season, trying to learn the nuances of the position with the hope someday of being a go-to pass catcher, he had 20 receptions, with an 81-yard TD.
"I can't go out and play this year making $445,000. Come on, man," Hester said.
General manager Jerry Angelo said after practice Wednesday he was surprised and disappointed that Hester was a no-show.
"Unexpected. We thought Devin was going to be here. As you know, we've been negotiating with Devin for a while and we are continually negotiating with him as well. So I really don't know why he isn't here today," Angelo said.
Angelo said he'd talked a few days ago to Eugene Parker, Hester's agent.
"He floated it out there, but I didn't really take it serious because, as I say, we are still talking, we're still in the process, there's no closure. Usually when you say, 'Hey, it's over, take it or leave it, we're out of money,' you might get a reaction like that. But as you're continuing on in negotiations as we have been, it is surprising."
Parker could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Angelo said the Bears didn't necessarily have a pecking order this offseason for getting new contracts done with players.
"We did tell Devin we were going to address his situation and we have," Angelo said. "That's where it is. The timing of it maybe wasn't satisfactory to him, but again, those things just kind of run their course."
Hester wasn't the only player missing the first day of drills on a warm but comfortable afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University.
Star center Olin Kreutz (Achilles' tendon) and newly acquired running back Kevin Jones (knee) were placed on the physically unable to perform list, while defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek (calf) and guard Chester Adams (stomach) were put on the non-football injury list.
But it was the absence of the speedy No. 23 that created a buzz on the first day of a camp that will feature an open competition for the starting quarterback's job between Grossman and Kyle Orton.
Grossman won a coin flip at a meeting Wednesday and worked with the first team on the first day. And now they will alternate with the first unit each practice, with Orton getting that opportunity on Thursday.
But when they'll be able to throw to Hester is not clear.
"He's got to do what he's got to do and I'm not really going to comment on it," Grossman said.
"I don't have any idea how long it will be. We would like to get him out here as soon as possible," Smith said.
"I know he would like to be out here. He realizes how important this work is, especially this early work with him becoming a full-time receiver."