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Hester or not, Dolphins can use return competition

Devin Hester apparently is going to have a decision to make soon.

The former University of Miami standout who happens to also be a former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl returner is apparently noticing his market in free agency is heating up and he has a decision to make.

 

So, yes, with God's help Hester is going to decide where he'll be playing in 2014. He told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week he'd like to play for the Dolphins. I'm certain if a paper in 30 other NFL cities had been asking, he might have told them he'd like to play for their teams as well.

It's called marketing.

I suppose that's why he's visiting the Atlanta Falcons today and has other visits set up as well.

Yes, Hester back in town would be good for him. But it's also about the right money and there is no knowing what kind of value the value conscious Dolphins would put on a 31-year-old returner.

But I will say this ... The Dolphins should put some value into improving their return game because last year it took a something of a step backward.

The Dolphins averaged 21.3 yards per kickoff return last year and that was 26th in the NFL. A season earlier, in 2012, the Dolphins averaged 27.1 yards per kick return and that was No. 3 in the NFL.

Marcus Thigpen saw his kickoff return numbers drop from 27.4 yards per return in '12 to 22.5 yards per return last season.

On punt returns the Dolphins went from 11.2 yards per return in 2013 to 7.8 yards per return in '13 and that meant a drop from the sixth best return unit in the league to 23rd. And again, Thigpen's stats suffered in direct parallel to the team's.

Thigpen averaged 7.8 yards per return last season with 20 fair catches. He averaged 12.2 yards per return with only six fair catches in 2012.

And Thigpen, who had a kickoff and punt return TD in 2012, didn't score on either a kickoff or punt return last season.

Hester?

He averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return, which ranked him sixth in the NFL last season. And he averaged 14.2 yards per punt return, although he only had 18 of them with 11 fair catches.

Now here's the rub ...

How much would Hester expect from the Dolphins? Or anyone?

The last time he signed a new contract was 2010 when he got a four-year, $21.956 million deal from the Bears. That was a different time and different set of circumstances.

The Dolphins aren't likely to pay anywhere close to that because, well, Hester's not 26 anymore, they don't value him as a wide receiver as the Bears did back in the day, and the team has approximately $19,185,752 of salary cap space as of Monday afternoon.

Also, Thigpen is cheap by comparison. He's only scheduled to make $570,000 in 2013.

So whether Hester is a fit and whether the Dolphins value him enough to outbid other teams for him is the question.

But as to Thigpen, there is little question.

The team will either replace him or bring in some competition for training camp. If he wins the competition, great.

If Thigpen cannot win the competition, the same relatively inexpensive salary that makes him so attractive also makes him a target. Because if the Dolphins cut him before the start of the regular season, they will carry only $2,500 in dead money.

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