Akiem Hicks

Bears Activate DL Akiem Hicks

The Bears will bring back one of their top players for Week 15’s pivotal game against the Packers. Akiem Hicks is officially back on Chicago’s 53-man roster after spending eight weeks on IR.

Hicks has not played since the Bears’ Week 5 game, but the team did not place the Pro Bowl defensive end on IR until before its Week 7 contest. To make room on their 53-man roster, the Bears placed tight end Ben Braunecker on IR. Braunecker’s season will end because of a concussion.

Despite the Bears sitting at 4-6 in a high-caliber NFC playoff race in mid-November, Matt Nagy refused to shut down Hicks. The fourth-year Bear returned to practice less than two weeks ago and is set to return to his starting role — for a 7-6 Bears team — Sunday.

A former Saints third-round pick who’s emerged as one of the game’s top interior defensive linemen, Hicks was a key reason for the Bears’ defensive ascent last season. He registered at least seven sacks in each of the past three seasons, combining for 36 tackles for loss in that span as well. The 30-year-old lineman will obviously not run that streak to four but will stand to help the Bears in what is essentially a must-win game in Green Bay.

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Bears Designate Akiem Hicks For Return

The Bears have designated Akiem Hicks for return from injured reserve, per a club announcement. Per league rules, the move will allow the defensive tackle to return sometime after the Bears’ Thursday night game against the Cowboys.

Hicks suited up and practiced on Sunday, for the first time since early October. The veteran hasn’t been on the field since suffering an elbow injury in London against the Raiders.

The Pro Bowl defensive tackle is a key cog in Chicago’s elite defense. Last year, he notched 7.5 sacks, a strong follow-up to his career high of 8.5 quarterback takedowns in 2017.

Hicks signed a four year, $48MM extension with the Bears in September of 2017, a deal that included $22MM fully guaranteed at signing. Next year, he’s slated to count for an $11.8MM cap hit, but the Bears could also cut him to save $8.8MM against $3MM in dead money.

At 6-6, the Bears are fighting to hold on to their paper-thin playoff hopes. At minimum, Hicks can solidify his place on the roster with a strong finish to the year. He’ll turn 31 in November of 2020, a year in which he’s slated to count for nearly 6% of the team’s total cap room.

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Bears Place DT Akiem Hicks On IR

The Bears have placed defensive tackle Akiem Hicks on injured reserve, according to a team announcement. Hicks has been soliciting medical opinions in recent days and, apparently, he’s been advised to stay off of the field.

This will not be a season-ender like Kyle Long’s injury, at least the Bears do not believe it will be. They are planning to make the impact defensive lineman one of their IR-return players later this season, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Hicks is not expected to need surgery.

Hicks, who made the Pro Bowl last year, is a key cog in Chicago’s elite defense. Last year, he notched 7.5 sacks, a strong follow-up to his career high of 8.5 quarterback takedowns in 2017.

There was some hope that the team’s Week 6 bye would give Hicks some time to recover and return to action quickly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Bears will look to rebound from their London loss to the Raiders on Sunday against the Saints without one of their best players.

Hicks signed a four year, $48MM extension with the Bears in September of 2017, a deal that included $22MM fully guaranteed at signing. Next year, he’s slated to count for an $11.8MM cap hit.

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Injury Updates: Rudolph, Bausby, Hicks, Gallman, Sproles

Some key injuries around the league from today’s action:

  • There was a scary scene in Pittsburgh, when Mason Rudolph was knocked unconscious by a hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Rudolph was knocked out cold, and was visibly disoriented even after waking up. He was diagnosed with a concussion, and taken to a local hospital as a precaution. Fortunately, Rudolph was cleared to go home from the hospital and is “doing well,” a source told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges took over for Rudolph, and he looked surprisingly competent. The Samford product, recently signed from the practice squad after Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury, will start against the Chargers next week if Rudolph can’t go.
  • Speaking of scary injuries, Broncos cornerback De’Vante Bausby suffered one as well. Bausby was taken to a hospital, and Denver initially said they were waiting on MRI results for his “head and neck area before determining whether it’s safe for him to fly home or stay a night for observation,” according to a tweet from Mike Klis of Denver 9 News. Klis notes that head coach Vic Fangio said he was told Bausby “cleared the serious stage,” but wouldn’t say much more. Fortunately, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic later tweeted that Bausby had been released from the hospital and would make the flight back to Denver with the team. Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth tweeted that Bausby was diagnosed with a cervical sprain. Hopefully everything turns out alright for the former AAF star, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup.
  • The Bears lost as big favorites to the Raiders in London, and their day got even worse. Star defensive lineman Akiem Hicks hurt his elbow, and it doesn’t look good. Speaking after the game, head coach Matt Nagy didn’t sound overly optimistic. “I don’t think it is, but I don’t – again, I’ll get into more and find out more details,” Nagy said, when asked if the injury was season-ending, via Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hicks made the Pro Bowl last year, and is a key cog in Chicago’s elite defense. Fortunately they have their bye in Week 6, but it sounds like Hicks is going to miss some time.
  • The Giants’ running back situation just got even more dire. Of course, they were missing workhorse Saquon Barkley, who is sidelined with an ankle injury. Wayne Gallman took over for Barkley as their lead back, and he was quickly ruled out with a concussion during their Week 5 loss to the Vikings. New York plays on Thursday Night Football against the Patriots this week, so Gallman will have a tough time getting cleared in just a few days. There’s been some talk Barkley could return for that game, although that still seems unlikely. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones will be looking to pull off a shorthanded miracle.
  • Eagles running back Darren Sproles reached a new milestone in his illustrious career, but then got nicked up shortly after. During Philly’s win over the Jets Sproles moved into fifth place on the all-time all purpose yards list, but then left the game with a quad injury. Sproles hasn’t been playing too big of a role so far this season as the Eagles look to keep the 36-year-old fresh, but this is still something to monitor. There was no word on the severity right away.

Patriots Notes: Hightower, Hicks, Amendola

Here’s a look at the Pats:

  • The Patriots will probably consider trading for an inside linebacker in the wake of Dont’a Hightower‘s injury, but they also have to think carefully about further mortgaging their future, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. Already, the Eagles are on track to send a fourth-round pick to the Eagles for the Eric Rowe deal plus 2018 fifth- and seventh-round picks to the Seahawks to acquire Cassius Marsh and a 2019 sixth-round pick in a deal with the Lions for cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
  • Hightower isn’t their only injury concern. Wide receiver Danny Amendola is dealing with a hyperextended knee, as Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald writes. Amendola’s injury, which is nowhere near as serious as Hightower’s, happened during a punt return against the Falcons. Amendola missed practice on Wednesday, but managed to return Thursday, so he could theoretically gut it out on Sunday against the Chargers. Alternatively, they may look to rest the 31-year-old for a bit with the bye week on the horizon. The Amendola injury could impact the Pats’ course of action in filling Hightower’s shoes. They might need a 53-man roster spot to add a wide receiver, or even a defensive tackle in the wake of Malcom Brown‘s ankle injury.
  • Coach Bill Belichick called defensive lineman Akiem Hicks at the last minute in 2016 to try and sign him in free agency, Patrick Finley of the Sun-Times writes. Ultimately, the reunion didn’t happen and Chicago is grateful for that. In 2015, Hicks totaled three sacks in 13 regular-season games for New England and was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its 14th-best defensive tackle. In 2016, Hicks finished out with a career-high 54 tackles and seven sacks, setting himself up for a four-year, $48MM extension with the Bears this September. Through seven games this year, he already has six sacks and 24 tackles. Within the article, Hicks also blamed his so-so performance in New Orleans on being miscast as an edge rusher.

Bears Sign Akiem Hicks To Extension

Akiem Hicks will begin his second Bears season Sunday, and it looks like the veteran defensive end will see many more Windy City openers. The Bears and Hicks agreed to a lucrative extension on Saturday, with Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reporting (via Twitter) it’s a four-year, $48MM contract.

Hicks will see $30MM in guaranteed money, Schefter reports. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported (on Twitter) a deal could be imminent, and within a minute, terms emerged. Hicks will now become by far the Bears’ highest-paid defender.

The Bears initially signed Hicks to a two-year, $10MM deal as a free agent last year. But Hicks’ second Chicago accord rockets him into the upper echelon of 3-4 defensive end contracts.

Only Muhammad Wilkerson, J.J. Watt and Jurrell Casey entered today making more per year than Hicks’ $12MM new-money average. The 27-year-old defender’s deal comes in comfortably ahead of the other eight-figure-per-year members — Mike Daniels, Corey Liuget and Cameron Heyward each make between $10.2-$10.6MM AAV. He and Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt — also extended today, for $12.2MM AAV — form their own tier in between these aforementioned levels.

A former third-round Saints pick in 2012, Hicks registered a career-high seven sacks last season. He was seeking $10MM per year and expressed desire to remain a Bear, entering what was set to be his contract campaign. But his camp did quite well in securing this agreement, going well north of that $10MM-AAV threshold. Hicks signed with Rosenhaus Sports earlier this summer to prepare for what turned out to be preseason negotiations.

Hicks rated as a top-flight interior defender, via Pro Football Focus, last season. The former Saint and Patriot’s deal is closer to those of higher-end 4-3 defensive tackle contracts than among players at his own position. PFR’s Connor Byrne assessed Hicks’ value this summer and mentioned deals on the Heyward/Daniels tier as Hicks’ realistic ballpark but did not discount a possibility of a pact in between those and the Jaguars-authorized contacts for Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell. Hicks’ deal falls south of Jackson and Campbell’s mammoth pacts but in front of the Giants’ Damon Harrison and Bengals Pro Bowler Geno Atkins‘ agreement.

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NFC Notes: Bears, Cards, Rams, Giants

Extension chatter regarding contract-year Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks has died down after some early summer rumblings, but the 27-year-old made it clear Thursday that he’d like to remain in Chicago. Hicks said on multiple occasions that “I would love to be a Bear for a long time,” per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. Back in July, in advance of his second season with the Bears, Hicks hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus as his representative. Rosenhaus has reportedly been seeking $10MM per year for Hicks on a new deal. Hicks made a case for that type of money last season when he tallied 54 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles across 16 starts and 930 snaps. Barring a change, he’ll earn a $4MM base salary this season to conclude a two-year, $10MM pact.

Elsewhere around the NFC…

  • Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians referred to cornerback Justin Bethel as a “failure in progress” last season, and it now looks as if the defender took that to heart. Arians announced Thursday that Bethel will start opposite Patrick Peterson come Week 1 (video link via the Arizona Republic). “He’s earned that job,” said Arians, who added that Bethel “outplayed everybody” he was competing against for the role. Bethel, 27, took a pay cut in the offseason just to remain with the Cardinals, who deleted the last year of his contract (2018) in the process. He’ll be eligible for free agency next winter as a result.
  • Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday that running back Lance Dunbar is likely to open the season on the physically unable to perform list, according to the Associated Press. Dunbar, who has been battling knee issues, would miss the Rams’ first six games in that scenario. The Rams’ hope was that the offseason signing and former Cowboy would serve as their top complement to starter Todd Gurley for the entire year. With Dunbar unavailable for the foreseeable future, Los Angeles will choose between Malcolm Brown – a 2015 undrafted free agent who has 22 carries for 56 yards under his belt – and undrafted rookie Justin Davis to begin the year as the main backup to Gurley.
  • Cornerback Valentino Blake left the Giants on Wednesday because “he’s dealing with personal issues,” coach Ben McAdoo told reporters Thursday (via Dan Duggan of NJ.com) “We’re going to give him some time and space to deal with those.” It remains unclear whether Blake will resume his career, and it’s also unknown how long the Giants will keep him on the exempt list. They’re currently using Blake’s vacated spot on safety Tim Scott, a Thursday signing.

Akiem Hicks Seeking $10MM Per Year

Having just hired Rosenhaus Sports to represent him, Bears contract-year defensive end Akiem Hicks is seeking $10MM per year on a new deal, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (on Twitter).

Akiem Hicks (vertical)

Formerly with the Patriots and Saints, Hicks joined the Bears in March 2016 on a two-year pact totaling $10MM. That contract has been a steal thus far for the Bears, with whom Hicks played like one of the NFL’s premier defensive linemen last season. Hicks tied a career high with 16 starts, led Bears defensive linemen in snaps (930) and piled up 54 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. Additionally, the 27-year-old ranked 15th among Pro Football Focus’ 127 qualified interior D-linemen in overall performance.

Given both Hicks’ showing last season and the deals given out to similarly productive players in recent years, it’s no surprise that he’s looking to double his annual income. As PFR suggested earlier this month, the contracts Giants nose tackle Damon Harrison (five years, $46.25MM, including $24MM guaranteed) and Packers DT Mike Daniels (four years, $42MM, including $12MM guaranteed) signed over the past couple years are among those that look like reasonable benchmarks for Hicks.

Without a new deal by next year, the Bears could theoretically place the franchise tag on Hicks, but the $17MM cost would be far higher than his current asking price. With that in mind, it would seemingly behoove general manager Ryan Pace to get to work on extending one of his key defensive contributors. Hicks, for his part, isn’t looking to leave Chicago.

“I just enjoy my time here and I’m completely open to ending my career here,” he told Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com and other reporters Wednesday.

It may help Hicks’ cause that Pace has long had an affinity for the defender, having been part of two front offices that have acquired him. When Hicks entered the NFL as a third-round pick of the Saints in 2012, Pace was their director of professional scouting.

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Akiem Hicks Hires Rosenhaus Sports

On the cusp of a contract year, Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks announced last month that he was seeking new representation. The search is over, according to Sports Business Journal’s Liz Mullen, who tweets that Hicks has signed with Drew Rosenhaus and Ryan Matha of Rosenhaus Sports.

Akiem Hicks (vertical)

Turning to Rosenhaus, the most famous agent in football, certainly shouldn’t hurt Hicks’ cause as he vies for a major payday. Hicks made his own case for a raise on the field last year, his first in Chicago, when he performed like one of the NFL’s premier defensive linemen. After signing a two-year, $10MM contract in free agency last offseason, the former Saint and Patriot led all Bears D-linemen in snaps (930) and piled up 54 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles across 16 starts. In addition to recording excellent traditional numbers, Hicks ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 15th-best interior defender last season.

Now that Hicks has representation again, it won’t be surprising if general manager Ryan Pace attempts to lock him up to an extension this summer. The Bears have no shortage of cap space going forward, though a notable chunk of that would go to Hicks if the two sides were to hammer out a new deal.

As I noted last week when examining a potential extension for Hicks, a pact worth eight figures per year looks like a reasonable goal at the moment. If the Bears aren’t convinced Hicks is worth that type of long-term investment now and he ends up posting another huge season, the team could keep him via the franchise tag. However, tagging an end next year will cost roughly $17MM, which could be too pricey in Hicks’ case.

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Extension Candidate: Akiem Hicks

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.

Akiem Hicks

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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