Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Akiem Hicks

Lake Forest, Ill.– The Chicago Bears 2021 season ended nearly a month ago, and as the franchise looks towards free agency, the Bears will have a number of decisions to make, including what to do regarding veteran defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Signed as a free agent by the Bears in 2016, Hicks has spent the last six seasons being a focal point of the Bears defense, quickly becoming the backbone of one of the top units in the NFL.

Set to turn 33 years old halfway through the 2022 season, the Bears appear to be at a crossroads with Hicks. Should new general manager Ryan Poles look to extend Hicks or should the Bears let Hicks walk, letting the fan-favorite hit free agency? On the surface, the easy answer would be to let Hicks walk, choosing not to reinvest in an aging player.

With NFL free agency right around the corner, let’s take a look at what the Bears should do with Hicks.

Hicks Impact with the Bears

When former Bears GM Ryan Pace signed Hicks to a two-year deal in free agency in 2016, Hicks burst onto the scene quickly with seven sacks and 54 tackles. In 2017, the Bears opted to reward Hicks during the 2017 offseason, inking the defensive lineman to a four-year, $48M deal that would keep Hicks in Chicago through the end of the 2021 season. Over the few years, the Bears’ defense clearly performed at a higher level when Hicks was on the field, drawing double teams, allowing for guys like Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith to play freely and make impact plays. Hicks did make the Pro Bowl in 2018, starting 16 games and totaling 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hits. Around the NFL, Hicks may not be a household name to some but his impact with the Bears as a leader both on and off the field cannot be underestimated.

An important question to answer

What does Bears GM Ryan Poles value when constructing the Bears roster moving forward? Poles’ vision and philosophy include being able to build through the NFL Draft and have head coach Matt Eberflus continue to develop talent. Poles’ willingness to commit to building through the draft means the Bears are trying to get younger, rather than continue to invest in aging players. However, with just five draft picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, Poles will have to pick and choose wisely, knowing that if the Bears move on from Hicks, finding another defensive lineman who can immediately contribute could become a need.

What does bringing Hicks back entail?

Ultimately, whether the Bears opt to bring Hicks back will come down to two factors. First, can the Bears agree on a price for Hicks knowing that as he gets older, his ability to contribute could go down? Second, looking at Hicks’ injury history since 2019, would Poles really be ready to reinvest in a player who started just nine games in 2021? It’s a fair question to ask because Hicks missed time in 2019 with injuries while starting just 15 games in 2020. A likely contract extension for Hicks would be a short-term deal worth one or two years, with a maximum value of $20M with the ability to cut Hicks after the 2022 season. Essentially, Hicks proposed contract extension would be just a one-year deal that gives the Bears some future flexibility.

What does letting Hicks walk mean?

When discussing why Hicks shouldn’t return to the Bears in 2022, the discussion is simple. The Bears aren’t willing to invest in an aging and injury-prone defensive line. Furthermore, considering the current state of the Bears roster, the defense needs to get younger and not older, meaning letting Hicks walk would allow the Bears to begin overhauling the roster, investing more salary cap and draft resources into the offense. Losing Hicks wouldn’t be considered a blow to the defense considering his age and in a league driven by offense, Chicago could opt to invest in the offense rather than using the same resources to retain Hicks.

Conclusion

Knowing the Bears have an important roster decision to make with Hicks, Eberflus and Poles are ready to begin building a roster that’s more catered to their style, instead of continuing to invest in players from the Ryan Pace era. Considering his price tag, injury history, and age, it appears as if Hicks is likely on his way out of the Windy City after a phenomenal run that defined his career.

 

Chicago Bears: Week 15 takeaways, quick tidbits, and more

With week 15 having wrapped up for the Chicago Bears, it’s time to go back and recap another painful Bears loss in an already lost season.

1) Let’s start with rookie cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who had seven tackles and three pass breakups in his first career start. When the Bears drafted Graham Jr. in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, he was labeled as a hidden gem and future starter. Despite just one start, Graham Jr. did more than enough to show why he can be the Bears answer at CB moving forward, opposite Jaylon Johnson. For a team that will have a lot of needs to address in 2022, having two starting CB’s on rookie deals will provide cap flexibility.

2) Justin Fields had his ups and downs in this game but at the end of the day, Fields performance was more encouraging than most would admit. After orchestrating five trips to the redzone, the Bears scored a touchdown just once but it was Fields leading the way on each of those drives. Moral of the story is that while Fields’ progress may not seem apparent, the Bears are at least moving the ball but failing to execute in key situations. Essentially, the Bears’ offensive struggles aren’t Fields fault, who’s been dealt a bad hand.

3) Robert Quinn deserves no more slander for the rest of the season. Quinn had two sacks on Monday night and now has 16 total sacks on the season. With three games left, Quinn needs just one more sack to break the Bears franchise record for single-season sacks, which is set at 17.0 by Richard Dent. After last season, many assumed Quinn was set to regress even more in 2021 but so far, he’s been an investment that’s paid off big time.

4) Matt Nagy was the playcaller on Monday for the Bears due to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor being out as a result of COVID-19. Nagy’s playcalling was about as predictable as it’s been since the much-lambasted head coach arrived in Chicago four seasons ago. Nagy’s inability to call the right plays in the redzone hurt the Bears, forcing the defense to win the game.

5) Justin Fields threw 39 times, completing just 26 passes. When the Bears switched to Fields, the offense was more balanced but still was run-first, with everything clicking. Over the last few weeks, the Bears have abandoned their run-first philosophy and conveyed that it’s up to the passing attack to win the game.

6) Credit to defensive coordinator Sean Desai and the Bears defense. Despite missing Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson, and Tashaun Gipson, Desai found a way to hold Vikings QB Kirk Cousins to just 87 passing yards and 3.6 yards per attempt. Cousins isn’t elite by any means but the Bears secondary got the job done, which is all that matters.

7) If anything, this was a game that the Bears could’ve won with ease. The Vikings didn’t necessarily look like the better team but the Bears’ own mistakes actually created some momentum and allowed the Vikings to capitalize on missed opportunities.

8) Robert Quinn’s criticism of the refereeing is warranted. In an age where the game continues to be more QB friendly, Quinn alluded to how it’s harder to play defense in the NFL and that sometimes, calls that seem to be too close, should just be let go.

“”These refs seem like they’re controlling the game a little too much. So, when a play is clean and they’re throwing a flag for something that they thought they could change a game [with] just by one flag … let guys play ball. If this was a couple years ago, half of this stuff wouldn’t even be called. But now, they got so many of these stupid rules, they dang near in a ref’s hands [and] could change the game in any given moment.”

Quinn has every right to be upset, especially as a player who’s having such a resurgent season after being named to his third Pro Bowl.

9) Let’s talk about LB Roquan Smith being snubbed from the Pro Bowl. Smith has emerged as one of the best LB’s in the NFL over the last few years but why does he keep getting snubbed is a major point of contention. Smith is every bit talented as Darius Leonard, Bobby Wagner, and Denzel Perryman. At the end of the day, while Smith may not get the recognition he’s earned, the Bears should be content knowing they have a blue-chip player and a leader in Smith.

10) Minnesota averaged just 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. While running back Dalvin Cook has 89 total yards, the Bears limited Cook to just 3.2 yards per carry, an impressive feat as Akiem Hicks returned to the lineup and provided a spark to a defense that badly needed one. Credit once again goes to Sean Desai for being able to put together a solid game plan, with the Bears’ defensive line dominating in the trenches.

Chicago Bears: Week 11 takeaways, quick tidbits, and more

andy dalton, bears

Currently, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, the Chicago Bears now look ahead to week 12 for a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions. But first, let’s recap week 11.

1) There are two players of the game in this one, both on defense. Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith kept the Bears in this one, especially with the defense missing Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson. Props to Quinn for turning in such a monstrous performance with 3.5 sacks, five tackles, three TFL, and four QB hits. Smith had 17 tackles on the afternoon, the most by a Bears linebacker since 2009.

2) Regarding Justin Fields, who has bruised ribs, the Bears have a decision to make. If it were in Fields hands, he’d be dressing up on Thursday afternoon against the Lions. Ultimately, with seven games remaining, the Bears should play it safe with Fields and sit him in a meaningless game. Give the future of the franchise a little over 10 days to get right before the Arizona Cardinals come to town on December 5th. It’s better for the Bears to have Fields healthy for the final six games of the season, a stretch that includes playing the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings (twice).

3) The Bears got away from the running game early in this one and it showed. Khalil Herbert had just one carry for zero yards while David Montgomery had 14 carries for 58 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Keeping the ball out of the Ravens’ hand should’ve been a goal of the Bears but Chicago failed to do so consistently throughout the afternoon. The Bears coaching staff needs to realize that neither Fields nor Andy Dalton can fully the offense, which means knowing your limitations of what skill position players can and can’t do is vital when it comes to offensive philosophy.

4) At times, it may not have looked like it but wide receiver Darnell Mooney had a game. Mooney’s quickly establishing a reputation as a big-play threat in the Bears offense. With five receptions for 121 receiving yards, averaging 24.2 yards per reception, the second-year wide receiver made his presence felt all afternoon, especially on a 60-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton.

5) This was what you could consider the Marquise Goodwin breakout game. Goodwin added to the Bears’ explosiveness on offense, with four receptions for 104 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears the lead late in the fourth quarter. This game needs to serve as an example of how the Bears can continue to utilize Goodwin moving forward.

6) The Bears struggled to execute consistently but another issue is playing good situational football. Matt Nagy needs to understand the Bears aren’t getting the job done right now and much of it is due to coaches being able to react in situations. An example of this is when the Bears burned a timeout with 1:41 left to go in the fourth quarter after failing to convert a two-point conversion.

7) The Bears also struggled to get off the field on third down in this game. Baltimore was 7-for-16 on Sunday afternoon, with the game’s biggest play coming on a 3rd-and-12 where Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley hit wide receiver Sammy Watkins for a 29-yard gain with just 0:33 left in the fourth quarter. The Bears defense has struggled to consistently get off the field on third down this season and it’s only going to get harder over the final seven weeks of the season with Mack being out.

8) Speaking of giving up a big gain on 3rd-and-12, guess what? The Bears’ secondary isn’t very good without Eddie Jackson but Jaylon Johnson had a nice showing. Second-year CB Kindle Vildor got rocked all afternoon while Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson were beaten as a result of miscommunication. The entire unit needs an overhaul in 2021 with just Jackson and Johnson guaranteed to start.

9) What does this loss mean for the Bears? Well, Chicago’s final seven games are against NFC North opponents. But understand the Bears were on the outside looking playoff-wise heading into week 11. This latest loss digs the Bears even deeper into a hole that’s getting harder to get out of.

10) For the rest of the season, nothing matters for the Bears except seeing what sticks on the wall for 2022 and beyond. Essentially, for the Bears, 2022 has already started despite 2021 not being over yet. The Bears’ future is already on the roster in Fields but the front office needs to figure out who’s staying in 2022 in an effort to build around Fields. That means taking a hard look at players and more importantly coaches.

Chicago Bears: Wednesday injury report a major concern

On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago Bears released their first injury report in nearly two weeks ahead of Sunday’s home matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. For a team that’s currently in the middle of a four-game losing streak, the Bears’ first injury report of the week wasn’t encouraging, with key starters on both offense and defense being injured.

Heading into a crucial matchup against the Ravens, the following Bears starters are injured: Akiem Hicks (ankle), Khalil Mack (foot), Eddie Jackson (hamstring), Allen Robinson (hamstring), Danny Trevathan (knee), Darnell Mooney (foot), and Alec Ogletree (ankle).

Of the names listed above, only Mooney and Ogletree were limited in practice on Wednesday, while the rest of the names were listed as did not practice. Looking at Hicks, Mack, and Jackson, the Bears’ defense would be short-handed on all three levels. Mack provides a stable presence as a pass rusher and tone-setter, while Jackson has covered up many holes in the Bears secondary throughout 2021.

The injuries to Mooney and Robinson are concerning for the development of rookie quarterback Justin Fields. While the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has continued to develop chemistry with both wide receivers, Mooney’s connection with Fields is more important. As Fields continues to develop, Mooney is currently the only WR slated to be on the roster in 2022, with Robinson set to hit free agency in the upcoming offseason.

Other injuries to monitor include running back Damien Williams (knee), tight end J.P. Holtz (concussion), and kicker Cairo Santos (elbow). While Williams, was limited in practice on Wednesday, Holtz and Santos were full participants. This means it’s more than likely both Santos and Holtz will be ready to go in Sunday’s contest against the Ravens. Chicago could merely be precautionary and choose not to have Williams dress, especially with the emergence of rookie running back Khalil Herbert, who has burst onto the scene in 2021.

The Bears will release two final injury reports on Thursday and Friday ahead of Sunday morning when the inactives list will be announced just over an hour before kickoff.

Assessing the Chicago Bears at the trade deadline

Ryan Pace, bears

As soon as 3:00 pm CST hit on Tuesday afternoon, the 2021 NFL trade deadline has officially with the Chicago Bears opting to make no moves, further cementing the front office’s belief that the 2021 roster is good enough to compete for a playoff spot. To note, Bears general manager Ryan Pace has made just one trade in his seven-year tenrue

The annual winner or loser mantra is back when it comes to the NFL trade deadline. Ultimately, with the Bears opting not to sell, the question needs to be asked: Are the Bears losers at the trade deadline?

For a team that’s struggled through the first eight games of the 2021 regular season, key players on the Bears roster such as wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks were the subject of trade rumors, as was running back David Montgomery, who has been on injured reserve due to a sprained knee.

How one views the Bears moving forward by making no moves is certainly a point of contention. One viewpoint is Pace is confident in the Bears roster and ready to continue compete in 2021. The other viewpoint is the Bears didn’t sell because the market was dry but Chicago wants to keep the roster intact for Justin Fields development.

The 11th overall pick certainly needs as much talent on the roster to continue being successful but the Bears also needs to understand selling assets in 2021 could’ve been key for the Bears to build around Fields in 2022 and beyond.

Robinson and Hicks could’ve been shipped off for mid-round picks, which would’ve beefed up Chicago’s limited trove of day two and three draft picks. With no first or fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears will once again be tasked with making the most of limited draft capital.

The Bears unwillingness to ship off players with expiring contracts shouldn’t go unnoticed. For now, Pace continues to hope every domino will fall in the right direction and the Bears sneak into the playoffs. However, if not, Pace will need to dig the Bears out a hole that was created by the much-lambasted general manager.

Chicago Bears: Holes apparent in week eight loss

Trevis Gipson, bears

In what was deemed a very winnable game for the Chicago Bears in week eight at home, the Bears struggled, failing to put together a complete game in all three phases. Chicago averaged 4.8 yards per play, with rookie quarterback Justin Fields rushing for a 22-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one to give the Bears some life.

The Bears season isn’t necessarily over but Chicago has now lost three straight games to NFC opponents. Since week six, losses to the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now San Francisco 49ers have put the three win Bears on the outside looking in, in the context of a playoff spot.

Sunday afternoon was an eye-opening moment for the Bears as a whole. Through the first seven games of the season, the assumption was that Chicago featured a solid defense while the offense would struggle. Sunday afternoon proved to be different.

The 49ers gashed the Bears’ defense throughout the second half, with multiple throws down the middle of the field late in the fourth quarter. Chicago simply wasn’t playing with enough speed on the defensive side of the ball to warrant slowing down the 49ers’ offense. The Bears pass rush failed to generate any sacks, even with Khalil Mack out

Mack’s absence leads to an important question regarding Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn, both of whom failed to record a sack on Sunday. How much of Hicks and Quinn’s success in 2021 is the result of Mack’s presence? Mack may not always pad the stat sheet but his impact was felt on Sunday afternoon.

The Bears offense did show signs of life but there wasn’t enough. It’s clear that the Bears aren’t a very good team around Fields, with the inability to execute prevalent from the wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line.

The Bears have a long way to go before being relevant again. Fields provides hope for the future but Chicago’s holes were visible on Sunday afternoon for a team that has struggled mightily in 2021.

Chicago Bears: Will short-handed defense rebound in week eight?

Trevis Gipson, bears

With the Chicago Bears returning home in week eight to take on the San Francisco 49ers, there is a high likelihood that Chicago is without pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Add in a groin injury for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and Chicago’s defense could be missing three integral pieces from its front seven.

If Hicks, Mack, and Quinn don’t suit up for the Bears, Chicago will need to rely on depth to beat San Francisco, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, good for 19th in the NFL. While the Bears defense allowed just three points in the second half of week 7 in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another noteworthy stat from week 7 is that Chicago also failed to record a sack for the first time all season.

The Bears are hoping to redeem themselves in a big way on Sunday afternoon. A win against the 49ers on the heels of a solid defensive performance before what is expected to be a tough road matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a confidence booster heading into the bye week.

“You know, that’s part of this NFL, is, it’s a long season and that was week seven and obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted from a team perspective and certainly from a defensive perspective,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai via the Bears official YouTube channel. “But having said that, there’s also some things that we can build off of, off that tape. And there’s some things of swarm and particularly in the second half where the guys play with tremendous energy and good technique and fundamentals that we’re going to continue to build on.”

Chicago will need to get creative when it comes to putting together a good enough game plan. Can cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor forget a shaky performance where both defensive backs allowed a combined four passing touchdowns while the front seven gets back to sacking quarterback? A win could certainly alter the trajectory of the Bears season.

Takeaways from Chicago Bears training camp: Friday August 6th

Friday morning saw the Chicago Bears kickoff the first of what will be three practices wearing pads heading into the weekend. After another day at training camp, here are some quick observations heading into the weekend:

  • If I had to pick a winner today, it’d be the defense. Friday marks the first of three padded practices for the Bears going into the weekend and the defense was clearly more fired up compared to the offense. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai has added some life to a defense that many seemed to be writing off throughout the offseason. 
  • Also, it’s getting harder and harder to evaluate where the Bears’ OL is really at compared to the Bears’ defense, especially with the injury bug stinging the OL. Offensive tackles Larry Borom and Lachavious Simmons are being evaluated for concussions, per multiple reports. The hope is that Teven Jenkins recovers fast enough with the Miami Dolphins coming to town for joint practices and a preseason game very soon. 
  • Former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was present in the building. Early on, there was some speculation that the Bears hired him in a consultant role, especially after the Eagles fired him at the start of the offseason. Pederson was on the practice field talking to Dalton and Foles, but Pederson was just visiting his old friend Nagy. 
  • Does anyone else find it completely odd that QB Nick Foles said on Tuesday that he’s a better version of himself compared to years past and yet Foles had multiple interceptions in practice today? Seriously, that’s got to be a bad look for Foles, who didn’t exactly dice up the third-string defense today. 
  • The pads were on today and the intensity was on another level. Akiem Hicks was clearly having lots of fun out there.
  • Won’t lie, CB Kindle Vildor had himself a strong day and continues to make a push for the starting CB2 job opposite Jaylon Johnson.
  • Both quarterbacks had really strong days today. Dalton will continue to be QB1 until the coaching staff decides to make a switch but Fields’ progress cannot be overlooked as there was noticeable improvement today.
  • This running back room, even with Tarik Cohen out continues to impress. Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert made some plays in practice today, making RB one of the best positions on the team throughout training camp.
  • Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin had another strong practice. He could be WR3 in this offense pretty soon.

 

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The Chicago Bears defense is feeling rejuvenated going into 2021

After attending my first official Chicago Bears training camp practice this offseason, one major takeaway regarding the Bears defense is the whole unit feeling rejuvenated heading into 2021. Watching from the sidelines at Halas Hall, energy was apparent for a unit that has regressed over the last two seasons.

Chicago knows that heading into 2021, the defense will once again need to perform at a high level as the Bears offense develops an identity. When general manager Ryan Pace called the Bears defense “the strength of our roster”, he was referring to marquee players such as Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Roquan Smith, and Akiem Hicks.

As the Bears prepare for the 2021 regular season, first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai has earned praise from players like Mack and Smith, generating excitement about how good the Bears can be in 2021.

“He has some of those same qualities like Vic (Fangio),” Mack said via the Bears official YouTube page. “Like just understanding the players’ strengths and understanding how the simpler, the better.”

As the Bears continue to prepare for the 2021 regular season, the goal isn’t just to play at a high level each week but to best the unit in the NFL, especially considering much of the same core was on the roster in 2018, when Chicago led the NFL in nearly every defensive category.

“What you can control is what you can control,” Mack said. “But what you bring to the table, we gotta bring it all to the table and be what we know we can be. And that’s a great defense. Of course we’re not satisfied with the result last year, so it’s work to be done.”

Through three days of training camp, it’s become clear that the Bears defense is set to have a big turnaround in 2021, one that will start due to Desai’s ability to connect with players while putting players in a position to succeed.

31 questions to Bears camp: Will Desai maximize defensive talent?

The Chicago Bears opted to promote from within this offseason at the defensive coordinator position, giving Sean Desai the reigns. Desai, who’s been with the Bears organization since 2013 will now be tasked with getting Chicago’s defense back to the top, after two years of statistical regression.

In many ways, one could argue that Chicago’s defense is at a crossroads heading into 2021. Core players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Danny Trevathan are getting older, while younger players like Jaylon Johnson and Roquan Smith continue to emerge, giving Chicago hope for the future.

Desai has been praised by players this offseason, being labeled as a bright, young mind, who’s going to allow playmakers to flourish.

“I think Sean is one of the brighter young minds in the game so to have him as my defensive coordinator, I definitely understand what he can bring to the table,” Safety Tashaun Gipson said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “And with the talent he got on defense, it’s going to be a beautiful thing to see.”

Desai has made it clear he’s got a major vision for Chicago’s defense, one that will emphasize physicality, toughness, strength, and playing fast, elements that are essential for top NFL defenses to possess. Talents like Mack, Hicks, and Smith should be given additional opportunities to make plays, putting the Bears offense in a position to succeed.

“The good thing about our teaching philosophies is that we try and make sure guys know multiple spots,” Desai said via the Bears official Youtube page. “That helps us on gameday with the depth and that’s been a philosophy of mine and our defensive staff since the beginning.”

As Chicago continues to prepare for the 2021 season, a major defensive revival seems to be in the cards for Chicago’s defense, especially because a young, innovative mind like Desai has taken the reigns of a defense that many believe can still play at a high level, despite multiple starters above the age of 30.