With the news that Devin Hester is rehabilitating down in Florida and on his way back to full health, the obvious question to ask is exactly what the Falcons plan to do with him when he gets back. The answer, unfortunately? It's not clear.
Hester is one of the game's great returners, and the Falcons won't be able to find anyone who is likely to be as productive as him in that specific role for 2016, which would be an obvious blow. With the NFL making touchbacks kick out to the 25 yard line instead of the 20, and with the perfectly dependable Eric Weems under contract, that isn't necessarily a fatal blow. If Hester was going to be utilized in the offense, you could make a stronger case for keeping him around, but Kyle Shanahan showed little interest in that late in the season, and Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, and perhaps even Nick Williams would be ahead of him on the depth chart right now.
Consider all that, the $2-plus million the Falcons would save by cutting Hester, and the fact that his contract is up after 2016 anyways, and it's hard not to think Atlanta's going to cut him as soon as he's healthy enough for them to do so. Given the team's appetite for budget free agents, that money would likely go toward more help on defense. If he does return, Hester would handle returns and slot in no higher than fourth on the receiving depth chart.
Let me be clear on something: I'm not hoping Devin Hester is cut. On the contrary, I'd prefer the Falcons kept him around for his return skills and his utility as a speedy receiver, but I think there's a very real possibility Atlanta gives him the axe to free up a little more cap space over the summer. Depending on how his rehab goes, it may be a while before we know.
What do you think?