Buccaneers Rumors: Akiem Hicks Agrees to 1-Year Contract Worth Up to $10M

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 31, 2022

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) celebrates after a play during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on December 20, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Veteran defensive end Akiem Hicks has agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Hicks had a disappointing 2021 season, which couldn't have come at a worse time, as his four-year, $48 million deal with the Chicago Bears was due to expire.

The 2018 Pro Bowler missed nearly half of the year because of groin and ankle injuries. In nine games, he posted 25 tackles, 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss.

According to The Athletic's Adam Jahns, Hicks was also involved in some drama behind the scenes during the final stretch of the regular season:

"According to a source, Hicks had a dispute with defensive line coach Chris Rumph during and after the game against the Giants at Soldier Field. It was characterized as 'heated and ugly.' Coaches, teammates and staff members witnessed the exchange. Hicks' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, did not return an email request for comment. A Bears spokesman confirmed Hicks' ankle injury."

Hicks' representatives tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a new contract for the 32-year-old, and he proceeded to watch his earning power decline over 2021 because of the aforementioned injuries.

Between that and Chicago missing the playoffs for the second time in three years, long-simmering frustration may have risen to the fore.

Based on the details of Jahns' report, a return to the Bears seemed unlikely, even when the franchise brought in Matt Eberflus after firing Matt Nagy. A new head coach might have meant a clean slate for Hicks in the Windy City.

A change of scenery might be what he needs to spark a return to form.

Across 2017 and 2018, Hicks had 16 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus recognized him as a second-team All-Pro in 2018, a year in which the Bears boasted one of the NFL's most imposing defenses.

His fortunes took a turn in 2019 as an elbow injury limited him to five appearances. While he remained healthy in 2020, his production (49 tackles and 3.5 sacks) fell short of the previous standard he set.

Pro Football Focus ranked Hicks as the 18th-best player on the market in March:

"We're a few years removed from Hicks' elite 2018 season that saw him rank fourth among interior defensive linemen in overall grade (91.7). He has otherwise been an above-average run defender and pass-rusher, though we've seen some decline in his game as he gets into his 30s."

Until he makes it through another regular season unscathed, questions will linger about his durability and how the mileage he has absorbed will affect his game.

As long as he can stay healthy, Hicks should be a valuable contributor to Tampa Bay's defensive line. Beyond a solid track record against the run and of pressuring the quarterback, he might be motivated to atone for an underwhelming conclusion to his Bears run.

With Hicks incoming, Ndamukong Suh is unlikely to return to the Bucs after having spent the previous three years with the team. Replacing Suh with Hicks should be a net upgrade for the team and bolster a strong defensive line centered on Vita Vea.