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Falcons release former Bears returner Devin Hester

Devin Hester. (AP)

Former Bears star returner Devin Hester is a free agent after he was cut by the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. The move came a day before the Falcons opened training camp.

After eight seasons with the Bears, Hester signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Falcons in 2014. He missed most of last season with a toe injury, which required surgery in January.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, though, said during a press conference that releasing Hester, who turns 34 in November, was a “football decision” and that he had passed his physical.

“We appreciate all of Devin’s contributions over the last couple years — a fine individual,” Dimitroff said.

Hester earned the fourth Pro Bowl appearance of his career in first season with the Falcon, leading the NFL with 1,128 return yards on 45 kickoffs.

In two seasons with the Falcons, Hester appeared in 21 games, returning 26 punts for 274 yards and a touchdown. He also totaled 1,363 yards on 54 kickoff returns.

Hester emerged as a viable option at receiver for quarterback Matt Ryan in 2014. He had 38 catches for 504 yards and two touchdowns that season. Hester did not make a reception during the 2015 season.

If Hester retires, he leaves the NFL as arguably the best returner ever. A three-time All-Pro selection for the Bears, Hester, who was a second-round pick out of Miami in 2006, has an NFL-record 20 touchdown returns over his 10-year career.

Hester’s Hall-of-Fame credentials will be scrutinized because he’s a specialist, but he undoubtedly holds a special place in Bears history. His game-opening 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI against the Colts remains a vivid highlight.