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NFL Free Agency 2014: Devin Hester once again linked to Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will want to upgrade their kick and punt return positions, which have been problem areas for years on end.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have a quality returner yet, but they may sign one in free agency. According to Dan Pompei, "some suspect" that Devin Hester will be reunited with Lovie Smith. Hester's contract in Chicago is up and the Bears seem unlikely to re-sign the three-time All-Pro returner.

New special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea stressed the importance of finding a great returner, something the Bucs have failed to do since Clifton Smith's career ended due to injury. Devin Hester could fill that role, as he was the Bears' only punt returner and primary kick returner last season, and was effective even at age 31, averaging 14.2 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kick return.

Another free agent option would be Dexter McCluster. He'd make more sense for a number of reasons. McCluster worked with O'Dea in Kansas City, is significantly younger than Devin Hester and would be a useful player on offense. Hester who has struggled to be productive outside of his job as a returner throughout his career.

McCluster led the league in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns last year, though that was in part due to the fact that he led the league in number of punt returns. Hester actually put up a better average as a punt returner last year, and had one touchdown on just 18 punt returns. That low number of punt returns was due largely to the fact that Bears opponents refused to kick to Hester: no other Bear managed a single punt return last year.

McCluster and Hester have both been repeatedly linked with the Bucs over the past weeks, although those links are little more than speculation for now. The Bucs would love to find a productive returner who can also contribute on offense, but they may just have to settle for a productive returner this time.