TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — When Devin Hester was released by Baltimore late in the season, he made it clear to his representation that he would only consider offers from potential playoff teams.
It took until the postseason for an offer to finally arrive that fulfilled Hester’s wish of trying to finally win a title.
“With the career that I’ve had, I don’t have a Super Bowl ring. And what a great opportunity I have now standing in front of you guys and be able to play for the Seattle Seahawks,” Hester said on Wednesday after his deal with the Seahawks became official.
Hester’s signing could be a coup for the Seahawks if he can provide a special teams spark that was lost when Tyler Lockett broke his leg in Seattle’s Week 16 loss to Arizona. Seattle lost its No. 2 wide receiver along with its primary kick and punt returner for the season when Lockett broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg. Seattle used a mix of players in the regular season finale against San Francisco, including cornerback Richard Sherman as a punt returner.
But that job, along with returning kickoffs, belongs to Hester.
“He’s been one of the best to do it since I’ve been in the league,” said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril, who used to face Hester twice a season when both were with NFC North teams. “He knows what it takes to return the ball.”
Hester had a below average season with Baltimore, something he attributed to offseason toe surgery. Hester played 14 games for the Ravens before being released in December. He is the third-leading punt returner in NFL history and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2014. He has an NFL-record 20 touchdowns on kick returns.
But his time in Baltimore was cut short. Signed as a free agent following the toe surgery, Hester returned only 25 punts and fumbled four times with the Ravens. The 34-year-old often let the ball drop instead of making a fair catch. After he failed to field a punt early in a Monday night game against New England, the ball was downed at the 1-yard line and the Patriots got a safety on the next play.
He averaged 7.2 yards per punt return, taking only two more than 20 yards. He averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return but fumbled once.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh attributed Hester’s early struggles to nagging injuries, but the one-time standout kick returner never showed the form that made him a star with Chicago and Atlanta.
Hester had talked with New England about a deal, but the Patriots then signed former Arizona wide receiver Michael Floyd and passed on the kick return specialist. A short time later, the Seahawks came calling.
“I told coach Pete (Carroll) that he finally gave me a scholarship,” Hester said of the former Southern California coach. “He was the only college that didn’t offer me a scholarship when I was in high school so I said, ‘I appreciate you giving me a scholarship, coach.'”
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