Devin Hester

2024 Hall Of Fame Class Unveiled

As part of tonight’s NFL Honors program, the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has been revealed. It consists of modern-era standouts and two players chosen by the senior committee. Here is the full breakdown of this year’s honorees:

Dwight Freeney, defensive end (2002-17)

In his second year as a finalist, Freeney received enough support to be voted into the Hall. One of the quickest edge rushers in NFL history, Freeney will reach Canton with 125.5 career sacks. That total ranks 18th in NFL history. The Colts made Freeney their pass-rushing anchor during Peyton Manning‘s extended run as their franchise centerpiece. While the team eventually found a bookend in Robert Mathis, it chose Freeney 11th overall in the 2002 draft with a hope of building a pass defense around the Syracuse alum. Freeney delivered and will book a Hall of Fame nod on his second try.

Freeney finished second to fellow 2024 inductee Julius Peppers in 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, but the spin-move maven showed what was ahead by forcing nine forced fumbles as a rookie. The 11-year Colt earned four All-Pro honors, joining Mathis as one of the era’s defining pass-rushing duos. Freeney led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and helped the Colts vanquish their Patriots hurdle en route to a Super Bowl XLI win two years later. The Colts gave Freeney a six-year, $72MM extension in 2007.

The enduring sack artist managed to play five seasons following his Colts career, spending time with the Chargers, Falcons, Cardinals, Seahawks and Lions. Serving as a designated rusher near the end of his career, Freeney helped the Cardinals reach the 2015 NFC championship game, after an eight-sack season, and played in Super Bowl LI with the Falcons.

Randy Gradishar, linebacker (1974-83)**

Widely viewed as one of the best linebackers of his era and one of the game’s best tacklers of any period, Gradishar moves into the Hall via the senior committee route. Gradishar’s selection makes him the first member of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense to be enshrined in Canton. That defensive nucleus powered Denver to its first playoff berth, a 1977 season that included postseason wins over 1970s superpowers Pittsburgh and Oakland en route to Super Bowl XII. The Broncos allowed just 10.6 points per game in 1977. Despite multiple rule changes designed to increase offensive productivity in 1978, the Broncos yielded just 12.4 points per contest that year.

A first-round pick out of Ohio State, Gradishar played his entire career in Denver and earned five All-Pro honors. The above-referenced 1978 season featured perhaps the best team in Steelers history, but Gradishar outflanked “Steel Curtain” cogs by being voted as Defensive Player of the Year after helping the 10-6 Broncos back to the playoffs. The off-ball linebacker added 20 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns in his career.

Devin Hester, return specialist (2006-16)

Almost definitely the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester becomes one of the few true specialists in the Hall of Fame. Dabbling at cornerback and wide receiver, Hester provided the Bears tremendous value as a return specialist. Elite in both the kick- and punt-return capacities, Hester set an NFL record with 20 return touchdowns. Famously adding a kick-return score in the playoffs — to begin Super Bowl XLI — Hester delivered one of the great rookie seasons in NFL history. The Bears second-round pick notched six return TDs in the regular season — one coming on a blocked field goal sprint against the Giants — and added No. 7 against the Colts in the Super Bowl.

Hester’s 2007 season dismissed any fluke notions; he posted six more return scores (four on punts) during his NFL sophomore slate. While producing 17 more TDs on offense over the course of his career, Hester never caught on as a pure wideout in Chicago. But he landed on two All-Decade teams for his return work. Eighteen of Hester’s 19 return TDs came in Chicago. Hester’s 14 punt-return TDs are four more than second place all time (Eric Metcalf); he broke the record for combined kick- and punt-return TDs in only his sixth season (2011).

The Falcons gave Hester a three-year, $9MM contract in 2014; he finished his career splitting time with the Ravens and Seahawks in 2016. Seattle signed Hester just before the 2016 playoffs, using him in both its postseason contests that year.

Andre Johnson, wide receiver (2003-16)

Not collecting a Super Bowl ring like the other two pure wide receiver finalists in this year’s class (Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne), Johnson became well known for putting up monster numbers despite not being gifted a top-tier quarterback. But Johnson operated as one of the most physically imposing receivers in NFL history. The ex-Miami Hurricanes star’s numbers, largely compiled with David Carr and Matt Schaub targeting him, reflect that. Of Johnson’s seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons, four included 1,400-plus. Only Jerry Rice (six) and Julio Jones (five) produced more such seasons. Johnson’s 14,185 career yards rank 11th all time.

The Texans chose Johnson third overall in 2003, the second draft in their history. The 229-pound pass catcher led the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yards in back-to-back years (2008, 2009). Neither of those seasons lifted the Texans to a playoff berth, but Johnson remained in place as the team’s No. 1 wideout when the team finally booked its first two postseason cameos in 2011 and 2012. Johnson amassed 201 yards in two playoff games in 2011, doing so despite Schaub’s injury leaving rookie T.J. Yates at the controls.

Johnson is the Texans’ first Hall of Famer. This is fitting, as he retired with the most games played in Texans history. The longtime WR1 spent 12 years with the team. Johnson signed two Houston extensions spanning at least seven years in length, earning more than $108MM throughout his NFL run. He finished a 14-year career with one season apiece in Indianapolis and Tennessee.

Steve McMichael, defensive tackle (1980-94)**

Part of the storied 1985 Bears’ defense, McMichael played 13 of his 15 NFL seasons in Chicago. A Patriots third-round draftee, McMichael found himself in the Windy City ahead of his second season. The Patriots waived the future D-line mainstay during the 1981 offseason. Teaming with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Richard Dent (along with William “The Refrigerator” Perry) on Chicago’s D-line, McMichael earned four All-Pro honors while helping a Bears team — one that saw Jim McMahon injuries impede paths to Super Bowls — become a perennial contender.

The Bears did, of course, break through as champions in 1985. That 18-1 team is on a short list of those in the running for the best ever, allowing only 12.4 points per game and outscoring its playoff opposition 91-10. McMichael started 16 games for the ’85 team and suited up every week for an ’86 Bears defense that statistically outflanked its famed predecessor. Better known by some as part of WCW’s Four Horsemen faction during his wrestling career, “Mongo” finished his gridiron run with 95 sacks (three of them safeties). McMichael closed out his NFL stay with the Packers in 1994. His 92.5 sacks with the Bears are second in franchise history.

Julius Peppers, defensive end (2002-18)*

Five years after retiring, Peppers remains fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list (159.5). The former Panthers, Bears and Packers pass rusher finished a half-sack shy of Kevin Greene for third. While Greene needed to wait a bit before enshrinement, voters will send Peppers to Canton on his first try. The former North Carolina two-sport standout came into the league with high expectations, going off the 2002 draft board second overall. He justified those, remaining a productive pass rusher into his late 30s. No active sack artist is within 35 of Peppers’ career total. He is among the rare players to land on two All-Decade teams.

Peppers collected six All-Pro honors, three as a first-teamer, and did quite well on the contract front. Peppers’ rookie contract spanned seven years (and $46MM, before the 2011 CBA introduced the slot system), and the Panthers kept him off the market with a franchise tag ahead of Year 8. During the uncapped 2010, Peppers landed a then-record-setting DE pact from the Bears (six years, $84MM). He played four seasons on that deal, and after the Bears made the 6-foot-6 rusher a cap casualty in 2014, Peppers made an impact for three playoff-bound Packers teams in the mid-2010s.

While this can be considered a big night for the Bears — due to the enshrinements of three former players — Peppers played 10 years with the Panthers, returning home to close out his 17-season run. Fifteen years after he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in Charlotte, the North Carolina native re-signed with his hometown team. Peppers’ penultimate season brought a 10th double-digit sack showing; he totaled 11 at age 37 to help the Panthers to their most recent playoff berth.

Patrick Willis, linebacker (2007-14)

Willis did not overstay his welcome in the NFL, retiring after his age-29 season. The dominant inside linebacker did not lack for accolades in his eight-year career, racking up six All-Pro honors — including five first-team distinctions. The 49ers nabbed Willis in the 2007 first round and turned him loose. Although San Francisco did not form the Jim HarbaughVic Fangio pairing until Willis’ fifth season, he flashed frequently as a young player and was regarded by many as the NFL’s best off-ball linebacker for an extended period.

The Ole Miss alum picked up Defensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and became the rare player to win that award while earning first-team All-Pro honors. Willis tallied a career-high 174 tackles — including a staggering 136 solo — as a rookie to provide an indication of his capabilities. Willis remained in his prime when Harbaugh and Fangio arrived in 2011. While Harbaugh’s arrival elevated Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick, Willis’ presence represented a key part of a defense-geared 49ers blueprint that produced three straight NFC championship games and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII.

Willis teamed with NaVorro Bowman to form one of the great linebacking pairs in modern NFL history. Seeing each soar to the first-team All-Pro perch, the 49ers went second-second-third in scoring defense from 2011-13. After suffering a foot injury midway through the 2014 season, Willis opted to call it quits.

* = denotes first year of eligibility
** = denotes senior candidate

Devin Hester Announces Retirement

We had a feeling that Devin Hester was done with football, but we didn’t have official confirmation – until now. The legendary return man took to Twitter on Tuesday to announce that his playing days are over. Devin Hester (vertical)

Hester leaves the game with an unparalleled highlight reel and several records that may never be broken. Hester’s 20 combined kick return touchdowns are an NFL record, as are his 14 punt return TDs. He also holds the single-season record for most return touchdowns with six.

Hester immediately made a mark on the league when he was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft. As a rookie, Hester returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. He also returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a TD, a game that the Bears would go on to lose. When hinting at retirement in January, Hester indicated that he was disappointed to be leaving the sport without a ring.

Late last year, Hester hooked on with the Seahawks to take one more shot at Super Bowl glory. Seattle came up short in the divisional round, but Hester left on a personal high note as he returned five kickoffs for 194 yards with a long of 78 yards. He also had an impressive punt return negated by a safety.

Hester might not have the championship he was after, but he leaves the game with four Pro Bowl nods and three first-team All-Pro selections. He’s also likely to become the first player enshrined in the Hall of Fame solely as a return man.

Devin Hester Planning To Retire

The most prolific return specialist in league history plans to call it a career. As Dave Boling of the News Tribune writes, Seahawks return man Devin Hester told reporters after yesterday’s loss to the Falcons that he is going to retire. As Hester said, “I told my wife it’s pretty much my last year. I was hoping for a run to the Super Bowl. The only thing that I left out of this game is walking away without getting a ring. It’s tough.”

Dec 9, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (23) returns a kick off against the Dallas Cowboys during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

If Hester does retire, he left fans with one last taste of his breathtaking ability. In the loss to Atlanta, Hester returned five kickoffs for 194 yards with a long of 78 yards. He also looked to have made a crucial punt return in the second quarter, returning it from the Seattle 13 to the Atlanta 7. The Seahawks were leading 10-7 at that point, and had the return stood, they would have had the chance to seize early control of the game. But the return was negated by a holding penalty that took place at the line of scrimmage, which pushed the Seahawks back to their own 6-yard line and led to a safety when quarterback Russell Wilson was stepped on by his own lineman and stumbled into the endzone.

But the disappointing end to Hester’s career does not alter his legacy. He is widely expected to become the first player enshrined in the Hall of Fame solely as a return man, and for good reason. His 20 combined kick return touchdowns are an NFL record, as are his 14 punt return touchdowns. He also holds the single-season record for most return touchdowns (six).
Hester was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft, and the Miami product quickly made his mark on the league, returning three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns in his rookie campaign. He also returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI 92 yards for a score, a game that the Bears would go on to lose.
Hester’s return touchdown record is not likely to be broken anytime soon, particularly with the recent changes to kickoff rules. After his eight-year run in Chicago, Hester spent two seasons with the Falcons, enjoying a strong 2014 campaign before an injury-shortened 2015 led to questions about his future in the league. Hester then signed on with the Ravens prior to the 2016 season, but his time in Baltimore was a disaster, as he appeared timid and was generally ineffective. Baltimore released him in December and he auditioned for the Patriots before ultimately signing on with the Seahawks on January 3, just before Seattle’s first playoff game (Seattle had lost returner Tyler Lockett to a broken leg).
Hester’s last ride did not end in a Super Bowl victory as he had hoped, but it will likely end in a trip to Canton.

Seahawks To Sign Devin Hester

The Seahawks are signing return man Devin Hester in advance of their weekend wild-card matchup with the Lions, according to FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer (Twitter link). Hester will presumably take over punt return duties for the Seahawks, who lost Tyler Lockett to a broken leg Dec. 24. Star cornerback Richard Sherman filled that role during the Seahawks’ regular-season finale last Sunday, but he’s far too important to the club’s defense to continue as a returner.


Hester, a four-time Pro Bowler who has spent time with the Bears, Falcons and Ravens, is among the greatest return men in the history of the NFL. The 34-year-old’s heyday is in the rear-view mirror, though, and his stint with the Ravens ended last month after his failure to field a punt against the Patriots resulted in a safety. New England subsequently tried out Hester, but it opted against signing him.

In 12 regular-season games in 2016, Hester averaged 7.2 yards per punt return – up from a career-low 4.3 last year – and recorded a 24.5-yard mean on kickoff returns. The Seahawks have in-house kick return options in Paul Richardson and J.D. McKissic, but Hester is likely an upgrade over those two and could grab the reins from them.

Patriots Audition Devin Hester

The Patriots brought in return specialist Devin Hester today for a tryout, a source tells Courtney Fallon of NFL Network (on Twitter). It’s not immediately clear whether they will sign him, however. "<strong

[RELATED: Tom Brady Wants To Play Until He’s 45]

Hester, one of the greatest kick returners of all-time, was dropped by the Ravens on Tuesday. Despite his impressive resume, he had a few bad hiccups this year and his decision to not field a punt on Monday night resulted in a safety.

Hester may not be the player that he once was and he can no longer cover up his suspect decision-making with Olympic-level speed. However, the Patriots may still see him as an upgrade over their current options. Some time after Hester’s misstep, Matt Slater fumbled on a kick return and gave the Ravens the ball deep in the Pats’ territory. That quickly led to a Baltimore TD.

Hester was cut loose by Atlanta this offseason and hooked on with Baltimore after healing up from toe surgery. In 2014, he showed that he could still get the job done on the other side of 30. He earned his fourth career Pro Bowl nod as he returned 45 kicks for 1,128 yards and 18 punts for 240 yards.

Ravens Release Devin Hester

One of the greatest kick returners of all-time is out of work. The Ravens announced that they have released Devin Hester. Michael Campanaro will be promoted from practice squad and serve as the team’s new returner. The Ravens also placed running back Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve and signed inside linebacker Lamar Louis"<strong

[RELATED: Falcons Promote WR Nick Williams]

Hester was a late addition to the Ravens’ roster, joining the club on Sept. 4. The 34-year-old averaged 24.5 yards per kick return and 7.2 yards per attempt on punt returns. Lately, however, he has struggled to field kicks. Last night, he made a costly decision to not field a punt and it would up resulting in a safety.

The veteran could be a fit for the Patriots, Ian Rapoport of (on Twitter) speculates.

Contract Details: Broncos, Bears, Sanchez

The Broncos and receiver Emmanuel Sanders were nearing a contract extension in late August, but the deal Los Angeles gave fellow wideout Tavon Austin led to Sanders raising his asking price, reports James Palmer of NFL Network (Twitter link). Sanders and the Broncos ended up agreeing to a three-year, $33MM pact with $27MM in guarantees on Wednesday. Austin hasn’t been on Sanders’ level in terms of production, but the Ram is four years younger. That helped Austin secure a longer, richer deal – four years, $42MM – with a few million more in guaranteed money ($30MM).

More contract details from around the NFL:

  • Guard Josh Sitton‘s three-year accord with the Bears is worth $21MM, $9.5MM of which guaranteed, as Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune tweets. Sitton can earn an additional $250K per season if he makes the Pro Bowl, something he did three time in Green Bay.
  • Quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s one-year deal with the Cowboys comes with a $2MM base salary and no guaranteed money, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • Receiver/returner Devin Hester‘s contract with the Ravens is for one year and $1.1MM, including $100k fully guaranteed, Adam Caplan of tweets.
  • New Broncos QB Austin Davis making $1.25 million this year, according to Mike Klis of 9News (on Twitter). He’ll get another $200K if he takes 50% of Denver’s offensive snaps, which is a long shot for a signal-caller who’s behind Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch on the team’s depth chart.
  • Kicker Connor Barth‘s agreement with the Bears is for one year and $885K, relays Biggs (Twitter link). Barth’s predecessor, Robbie Gould, was scheduled to make $3MM this season before the Bears released him.
  • Earlier Thursday, the Steelers made guard David DeCastro the richest offensive lineman in franchise history.

Connor Byrne contributed to this post.

Ravens Place Carl Davis, Matt Elam on IR

The Ravens placed a pair of defenders on the injured reserve this afternoon. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun tweets that the team has placed defensive tackle Carl Davis and safety Matt Elam on the injured reserve list. Zrebiec notes that the team will use the open roster spots on return man Devin Hester and running back Justin Forsett.

Matt ElamDavis, 24, suffered an ankle injury during his team’s final preseason game. The former third-rounder played in 13 games (three starts) as a rookie, compiling 11 tackles and two passes defended. Roster Resource projected Davis to serve as the team’s top reserve nose tackle.

Elam, 24, was the Ravens’ first-round pick back in 2013. The safety showed plenty of promise through his first two years in the league, compiling 127 tackles, seven passes defended, and an interception in 32 games. Elam missed all of 2015 with a biceps injury, and he was battling a knee injury throughout this preseason.

Ravens To Sign Devin Hester

6:05pm: The Ravens have officially announced the move (via Twitter). The team hasn’t announced a corresponding roster move.

Meanwhile,’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the one-year deal carries a max value of $4MM based on incentives.

9:30am: The Ravens have agreed to sign Devin Hester, as Adam Schefter of tweets. It’ll be a one-year deal for the veteran kick returner. "<strong

Hester joined the Falcons prior to the 2014 season and enjoyed his fourth Pro Bowl berth – his first since 2010. Hester returned 45 kicks for 1,128 yards and 18 punts for 240 yards, showing that he was still dangerous in the return game. This offseason, he was cut loose by Atlanta. It remains to be seen whether Hester can build on his NFL record in return touchdowns (20) and punt return touchdowns (14).

The Ravens had other options in the return game heading into the offseason, but they’ve since cut ties with nearly all of them. Wide receivers Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro, and Keenan Reynolds all were thought to be contenders for the returner job in Baltimore, but the club waived all three over the weekend, likely with an eye towards adding Hester.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ravens Work Out Devin Hester

The Ravens worked out veteran wide receiver/return man Devin Hester today, reports Jeff Zriebec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). Hester has been on the open market since July when he was released by the Falcons, but is now almost back to full health."<strong

Baltimore has decent depth at wide receiver, with Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore, and Jeremy Butler representing the club’s top options, so Hester would likely act strictly as a returner if signed. With Kaelin Clay — the Ravens’ primary return man in 2015 — on injured reserve, Hester would compete with Butler and Michael Campanaro for duty on special teams.

Hester joined the Falcons prior to the 2014 season and enjoyed his fourth Pro Bowl berth – his first since 2010. Hester returned 45 kicks for 1,128 yards and 18 punts for 240 yards, showing that he was still dangerous in the return game. It remains to be seen whether Hester will continue his NFL journey and build on his NFL record in return touchdowns (20) and punt return touchdowns (14).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.