Chicago Bears: Akiem Hicks deserving of a new contract

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Akiem Hicks
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Akiem Hicks /

The Chicago Bears would be wise to extend the contract of Akiem Hicks now before it’s too late.

One of Ryan Pace’s best moves in his Chicago Bears tenure took place in the 2016 offseason with the signing of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. After turning down a contract from the New England Patriots, the 6-5, 330-pound defensive end signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bears. In a pretty dismal 2016 season, Hicks was one of the few bright spots, showing great leadership skills in the locker room and even better play on the field.

2016 was a breakout season for the five-year veteran, compiling 71 tackles, two forced fumbles, two passes defended, and a career-high seven sacks. Hicks received an outstanding grade of 83.1 from Pro Football Focus, 15th highest of any interior defender in the league. Solid against the run (80.9 grade) and pass (76.7 grade), Hicks by far was the Bears’ most consistent and reliable defender. He started all 16 games and played the second-most snaps of any defender on the roster.

Hicks greatly outplayed his contract, and he’s now entering the last year of his free agent deal. At 27 years old, Hicks is just entering his prime, and unlike several other Bears’ defensive starters, his best days are still in front of him.

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The market for defensive lineman who can stuff the run and collapse the pocket is extremely high, meaning if Hicks enters the market following this season, he’s likely to be offered a contract that the Bears may not be able to afford to match. That’s why it is vital for Pace and the front office to try to extend Hicks before the 2017 season even begins.

Hicks likely will not settle for a team-friendly deal, knowing that elite defensive ends can command upwards of $10 million annually. In early June, Hicks had this to say about his current situation, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

"“I know it’s not always the best way to think of it with this being a business, but I want to get what I deserve or get what I have earned. If I earned a new contract, that’s what I earned. If I don’t, that’s the case. It’s really not up to me. I get to put my stuff on the field and show them what I can do, but I can’t make them go upstairs and sign me to a different piece of paper.”"

Pace has not been afraid to sign players to extensions, as Willie Young received a new two-year extension during last season’s training camp. However, Hicks’ situation is slightly different, as he’s in his prime and coming off the best season of his young career. Things also become more complicated with the fact that Hicks currently has no agent, and more likely than not, would not be willing to represent himself.

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With this being said, it can’t hurt to start a dialogue. With a rebuilding roster, the Bears need to be adding impact players, not losing them. Hicks was a terrific player last season, and it would hurt to potentially lose someone who could be a core building block for years to come.