Hester agrees to four-year deal with Bears

Updated: July 5, 2006, 12:49 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Versatile performer Devin Hester, the latter of the Chicago Bears' two second-round selections in the 2006 draft and a young player being counted on to dramatically upgrade the franchise's special teams production in 2006, has reached agreement in principle on his first NFL contract.

The deal is expected to be finalized later this week.

Financial details of the four-year contract were not yet available, but Hester becomes the fifth of Chicago's seven draft choices to come to terms, leaving only second-round cornerback Danieal Manning and third-round defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek unsigned. There are only 21 draft choices with contracts leaguewide and Chicago, San Francisco and Washington have signed five selections each.

The Bears, like the Redskins, did not have a first-round selection in the April draft.

The 57th player chosen overall, Hester is the lone second-round pick so far to reach agreement and is just the second player chosen on the first day of the draft to come to terms. The only prospect chosen higher than the former University of Miami star who has completed a deal is defensive end Mario Williams, the top player selected in the draft, by the Houston Texans.

Earlier in the week, the Bears signed fourth-round linebacker Jamar Williams, who is expected to play a lot in 2006, and who figures prominently in Chicago's plans for the future. All of the team's choices signed to this point received four-year contracts. Each of the first four picks to sign got deals that include minimum base salaries, with an "escalator" which could boost the base salary for the 2009 season.

During his three seasons at Miami, the Hurricanes' coaching staff used the lightning-quick Hester as a wide receiver, tailback, cornerback, nickel back, and return man. The Bears plan to play Hester exclusively in the defensive backfield, and he could challenge for nickel or dime coverage duties as a rookie. The area where Chicago likely will reap immediate dividends, however, is on special teams.

Hester returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns during his Hurricanes career. He averaged 25.8 yards on 37 kickoff returns at Miami and 15.6 yards on 41 punt runbacks. Hester also blocked a pair of kicks while playing on special teams.

As a team, the Bears averaged just 19.9 yards on kickoff returns in 2005, the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Chicago's average on punt returns, 9.1 yards, was the ninth-best in the NFL. But the club struggled all season with fumbles at the position, and finally released specialist Bobby Wade in December after he combined for nine fumbles and muffs on punt returns.

While playing on offense at Miami, Hester caught 10 passes for 196 yards and rushed five times for 40 yards. There is still some question about his best position, but he does possess raw coverage skills, plays tougher than his size (5-feet-10 5/8, 190 pounds), and has electrifying speed, having been clocked at 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at the combine workouts.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.