Dolphins should make Devin Hester's next return a homecoming

Devin Hester is the most productive kick-return specialist in NFL history.

Gee, do you think the Miami Dolphins, 26th in the league in scoring last year, could use some of that?

It's a simple question with all kinds of clumsy qualifiers, starting with Hester's age (31), but the Chicago Bears don't want him anymore and the NFL's free-agency period is about to begin so, really, why shouldn't new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey at least be talking about this?

This is one blockbuster of a Palm Beach County story waiting to happen, with Hester, a former star at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach and the University of Miami, coming home to burn one last trail through the NFL record books.

Anthony Carter, the Suncoast giant of another era, would have jumped on this hometown hero gig but the Dolphins traded his draft rights away in 1985 in return for a Vikings linebacker named Robin Sendlein who played one year in Miami and a second-round draft pick that was part of the deal to bring Hugh Green here.

If the Dolphins thought AC had too much wear on his tires after playing in the old USFL, they were wrong. Carter was a Pro Bowl receiver for Minnesota with a variety of spectacular highlights in the playoffs, including 143 yards in punt returns in one game and 227 reception yards in another.

And what about Anquan Boldin of Pahokee High School and Florida State, another of the most amazing athletes to come out of this area? The Dolphins could have had him midway through the second round of the 2003 draft but instead took linebacker Eddie Moore, who turned out to be so much less.

Boldin came around again in the offseasons of 2010 and 2013, when his former teams in Arizona and Baltimore figured the powerful wide receiver was getting a little old and traded him away for a handful of mid- to late-round draft picks. A pittance, but the Dolphins weren't sufficiently interested to offer even that much. These days Boldin, 33, is working on a new $12 million contract with the 49ers and looking to put up his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and the seventh of his career.

Now here comes Hester, the local legend who need not get away.

If he's getting on in years, that didn't stop Hester from averaging 27.7 yards on punt returns last year, which was top-five in the league and 5 yards more than Miami's Marcus Thigpen.

If he's prone to double back and give ground in constant quest of the home-run return, that didn't stop Hester from bringing a punt back 81 yards for a touchdown in a game at Washington last year. Thigpen's longest punt return for the Dolphins in 2013 was 34 yards.

The strongest reason to avoid spending money on Hester or any return specialist is the NFL's 2011 decision to encourage touchbacks and discourage high-speed collisions by moving the kickoff spot 5 yards closer to the end zone.

Once again, though, Hester has managed to keep it exciting no matter the odds.

It took him just six games after that rule was installed to score a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. What's more, Hester was just about standing on the back line of the end zone the night he returned a missed Giants field goal 108 yards for a touchdown in 2006.

The Bears don't play in Miami all that often, of course, and just once since Hester came into the league. He did return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown seven years ago, however, in a game played at Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins' home field was a fair fit for him that night and it could be again.

Bottom line, somebody's going to have Hester on their roster the day he scores his 20th return touchdown to break the all-time record tie with Deion Sanders. Might as well be Miami, unless Stephen Ross prefers to keep buying seats in his own stadium in order to avoid local TV blackouts.

When your team is 8-8 or 7-9 or whatever, fans need a little magic to take home with them. If Hester doesn't always deliver that, and pronto, at least there is the promise every time he touches the ball.

That's the one thing that never gets old.

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