As a quality player entering a contract year, Bears lineman Akiem Hicks has a realistic chance of ending up as one of the richest defenders in next winter’s free agent class. While there’s no indication that the Bears have prioritized an extension for Hicks, it’s fair to suggest that an ideal scenario for general manager Ryan Pace would include keeping the five-year veteran in the fold for the long haul.
In March 2016, Hicks’ first trip to free agency, Pace lured him from New England on a two-year, $10MM deal. Hicks entered the NFL in 2012 as a third-round pick of the Saints, who employed Pace at the time. Three years later, New Orleans deemed Hicks expendable, sending him to the Patriots for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. That proved to be yet another shrewd move by the Pats, with whom Hicks fared well across 13 games in 2015 before departing for a richer payday.
Pace made an astute decision of his own when he signed Hicks, as the 318-pounder thrived last year while taking on more responsibility than he had in either New Orleans or New England. Hicks tied a career high with 16 starts and established new personal bests in snaps (930, which led all Bears defensive linemen), tackles (54), sacks (seven) and forced fumbles (two). Those are impressive traditional numbers, and Hicks also fared well in terms of advanced metrics, as Pro Football Focus ranked his performance a stellar 15th among 127 qualified interior D-linemen last season.
Now, eight months from potentially becoming a free agent again, Hicks is in the market for a new representative, and he seems cognizant that he’s on the verge of a raise.
“I am a free agent that is almost a free agent,” Hicks said last month. “You get it?”
Preventing an unsigned Hicks from leaving Chicago via the franchise tag next winter would cost the club a lofty amount, somewhere in the $17MM neighborhood. With that in mind, when the defensive end hires an agent, it would behoove Pace to reach out to his representative regarding an extension. The question is: What would be a fair offer for the 27-year-old Hicks, who went from a solid lineman from 2012-15, when he combined for 33 starts and 9.5 sacks, to a borderline excellent one last season? Among PFF’s other top 15 interior linemen from last year, several have recently landed contracts, including Calais Campbell (No. 2), Kawann Short (No. 3), Fletcher Cox (No. 5), Damon Harrison (No. 7), Mike Daniels (No. 9) and Malik Jackson (No. 12). Here’s a quick rundown of those deals:
- Campbell: Four years, $60MM, including $30MM guaranteed (March 2017)
- Short: Five years, $80MM, including $35MM guaranteed (April 2017)
- Cox: Six years, $103MM, including $63MM guaranteed (June 2016)
- Harrison: Five years, $46.25MM, including $24MM guaranteed (March 2016)
- Daniels: Four years, $42MM, including $12MM guaranteed (December 2015)
- Jackson: Six years, $90MM, including $42MM guaranteed (March 2016)
At around $10MM per year over a handful of seasons, the Harrison and Daniels contracts look like more reasonable benchmarks than the others for Hicks, though the guaranteed money would likely have to approach Harrison’s total. It’s important to note that the salary cap has risen since those two signed, and it’s only going to continue going up. Both the NFL’s ever-increasing cap and another terrific season would enable Hicks to further make his case for something closer to the pact Campbell landed earlier this offseason. So, having already received one decent-sized payday in his career, it’s possible Hicks will bet on himself this year, go without an extension and try to play his way to Campbell-type money (if not more) by next winter.
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