While March 11 should be a big day for NFL free agency, as that is the first day that the gates open and unrestricted players are free to sign with whichever team they'd like to (and that wants them as well), there's plenty of other action taking place before that date.
Most of it is just rumors at this point, but many facts once began as minor rumors. Here are several pieces of news and rumors for Thursday in the NFC, including a farewell for one of the greatest special teams players in league history.
Devin Hester announces he won't return to Bears
While efforts to turn Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester into an actual receiver have been unsuccessful, the veteran has remained one of the most effective and dangerous return men in the NFL. That has not stopped the Bears from officially parting ways with the eight-year veteran free agent, according to Hester on Facebook. Hester had nothing but great things to say about the organization and the city of Chicago as they look to go in separate directions in 2014.
Though he was completely removed from the offense by new head coach Marc Trestman in 2013, Hester had 14.1 yards per punt return, including his 13th career touchdown. In addition to those numbers, he also led the league in kickoff returns and kickoff return yards, posting career highs in both categories. He's also had five kickoff return touchdowns in his career.
Hester had contemplated retirement after Lovie Smith was let go following the 2012 season, but returned and was relegated to special teams by the new offensive-minded Marc Trestman. Regardless of where Hester goes from here, he will always be known as the greatest returner of all-time by Chicago Bears fans. Best of luck, #23, and thanks for all the memories.
Packers make offer to B.J. Raji
There was likely a time when B.J. Raji and his agent would've never imagined that his first free agent contract would be for just one year, but it appears that is the case as of Thursday. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Green Bay Packers have offered Raji a one-year, $4 million contract to retain his services, and it appears the two sides are nearing an agreement.
Raji was the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft and had possibly his best season in 2010 when Green Bay won the Super Bowl, with Raji recording 6.5 sacks from the interior of the defensive line. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011 but has been less effective in each of the last two years. A move to defensive end in 2013 did not seem to bump his stats any, with Raji recording 19 tackles and zero sacks.
Still only 27, a one-year deal could give Raji an opportunity for a big season and a long-term contract in 2015.
Osi Ya Later?
The Atlanta Falcons parted ways with a veteran defensive end in 2013 and they may be in line to do that again just a year later. According to Mike Garafolo, the team has asked Osi Umenyiora to take a pay cut from his $3.5 million salary in 2014, with just one year left on the deal he signed in 2013 to replace John Abraham. Umenyiora joined the Falcons after nine years and 75 sacks with the New York Giants and seemed to perform well in his first season with Atlanta.
Umenyiora had 7.5 sacks as well as his first career interception, which he returned 68 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons struggled however, going 4-12, and could be looking to get younger and save money as they try to reload for 2014.
Dave Choate at The Falcoholic would like to bring him back and would be a little surprised if he wasn't:
Personally, I hope the two sides work it out and Osi returns. He's still a useful pass rusher and his contract is up after this season anyways. The caveat here is that if the team believes Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi are ready to take major steps forward plus add talent to linebacker and defensive end, it is fair to wonder whether he's a necessary player.
Michael Vick likely to fly the coop
Although there is still speculation that Michael Vick could return to the Philadelphia Eagles in a backup capacity, it appears almost certain that it would only be if Vick is completely unable to find a starting job elsewhere. While Jason La Canfora said that Vick would not be back with the team "in any capacity," Ian Rapoport tweeted that the two sides have been talking and aren't done yet.
Vick was putting up some very respectable numbers under first-year head coach Chip Kelly before getting hurt and giving way to the massive breakout performance of Nick Foles in 2013. Though he turns 34 in June, there are likely still teams out there that believe Vick can help them now and in the future as the starting quarterback.
If not, he seems to have gelled nicely in Kelly's system and didn't put up much of a fuss with the media after losing his job to Foles. Brandon Gowton at Bleeding Green Nation still believes he will find a job elsewhere:
It's clear Vick wants to get a starting job somewhere. But what if he can't find one? It sure would make sense for him to come back to the Eagles. From a talent perspective, Vick would be one of the best backup QB options in the league. Plus he already has familiarity with the team and the system. Ultimately, I think Vick finds a job elsewhere. But it doesn't hurt for the Eagles to keep the door open just in case.
The Minnesota Vikings could definitely be a landing spot for Michael Vick, and Adrian Peterson believes that he would make them a playoff team. The Daily Norseman has more on a possible Peterson-Vick union next season.