It certainly felt like an eternity. After three days of discussions with general manager Ryan Pace, head coach John Fox and the rest of the Bears brass, defensive end Akiem Hicks came to terms on a two-year, $10 million deal ($5.5 million in guaranteed money) on Sunday night, per the team’s official website.
Hicks had been in Chicago since Friday and had off and on discussions with the Bears including one of his former bosses in Pace from 2012-14 in New Orleans, who reportedly made a huge difference in the ultimate decision.
Bears three-time Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long waited around for the news with the rest of the team’s fans on the Twitterverse and he had this to say about the signing: “I know our linebackers are jumping for joy. We just signed colossus.”
Well, they should be. Hicks is set to be one of the two starting defensive ends at the five-technique position next to second-year star in the making, nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Between them they weigh around 633 lbs. That’s a lot of beef.
Hicks becomes the fourth new player signed by the Bears since free agency officially opened on Wednesday and the 10th guy signed overall throughout the process.
With very few talented options left on the defensive end front, Hicks was a sought after free agent, who provides plenty of help for his new squad. At 6’5″, 324 lbs, he has the ability to play any spot along the defensive line, but will line up at defensive end more often than not providing a stout run-stopping option.
He joins inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Terrell Freeman as the trio is expected to start and make an impact from day one. The Bears also signed right tackle Bobby Massie this week. Considering Hicks, Trevathan (his birthday is on March 24) and Massie are all 26, the Bears got value deals with three players who are still in the prime of their careers. Freeman, who turns 30 in May still has plenty of football in front of him.
Hicks has flashed plenty of talent as a run stopper and pass rusher at times through his first four seasons. He made 33 starts with New Orleans, totaling 119 tackles and 6.5 sacks before being traded last September to the Patriots in exchange for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. That trade worked for both sides and for Hicks he shined as a rotational piece in New England, adding 21 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery in 13 games. He had 167 overall rush attempts adding 18 pressures in 2015.
Prior to arriving in the NFL, Hicks opted against joining the now-defunct UFL instead going after a degree and chance to be a star at Regina. He totaled 66 tackles and eight sacks in two seasons there from 2010-11. He impressed enough at the East-West Shrine Game to earn an invite to the NFL Combine.
Originally a third-round selection by the Saints from the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. He was signed to go to LSU in 2009 after two juco seasons in Sacremento, California, recruiting violations made him ineligible and he eventually earned a call from the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL but chose to play college football in Canada instead. New Orleans gave him his first chance.
His departure from New Orleans certainly looks strange considering how bad that defense was a season ago especially along the defensive line. But he was reborn in New England and possibly just needed a little bit of motivation to get back to his high level of play. His agent Frank Murtha had this to say back in April, 2012 prior to the Saints selecting him in the draft via The Canadian Press.
“If Akiem had stayed at LSU, we’d be talking more about him more than Brockers,” Murtha said. “Don’t get me wrong, he (Brockers) is a tremendous player but I don’t think he’s the athlete Akiem is.
“The team that drafts Akiem, from a scouting standpoint, the first thing they’ll get is what we call a high-ceiling guy. He’s someone who projects to have tremendous potential and is enormously capable and talented. They’ll get someone who isn’t a completely unmoulded piece of clay.”
Ego Ferguson is coming off a season-ending knee injury that limited him to four games, one start in his second season and he projects as the other starter opposite Hicks at defensive end. Ferguson, Goldman and Hicks are all still young, but together they have plenty of upside. Considering their opening day starters from last season were Will Sutton, Jarvis Jenkins and Ego Ferguson, I think Pace has to be happy with the new look line.
Sutton is still on the roster in his third year as well as Mitch Unrein, Greg Scruggs, Cornelius Washington and Bruce Gaston, five ends that will be competing for spots on the 53-man roster.
Getting tight end Zach Miler re-signed is the next order of business as well as finding some depth pieces at cornerback and safety. Overall, Pace and the Bears’ management have found some really nice pickups at fair prices. With so many other teams dishing out crazy dough for unproven talent, the Bears are being smart in the way they do business, at least over the last two off-seasons. Hicks is just another one of those crafty additions.
Good read: Five 3-4 defensive ends the Bears should target after the first round of the NFL Draft via About.com.
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