One of the bigger mysteries that hasn’t been mentioned much lately is the odd situation with Akiem Hicks. At one point there were rumblings that the Chicago Bears were preparing to either trade or release the former Pro Bowler. A necessity brought on by a difficult salary cap crunch. A similar fate that ultimately did befall Kyle Fuller.
Then almost out of nowhere, the rumor vanished. The Bears had reached the conclusion they’d hang on to Hicks. Nobody asked GM Ryan Pace or head coach Matt Nagy about it. Hicks was pretty much gone and then he wasn’t. What could’ve been the driving force behind the decision to keep him? They still clearly need cap space. Well, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network may have provided an answer. This courtesy of a top league executive.
Random quote from a top decision maker on the 2021 NFL Draft: “This is the worst defensive tackle draft I’ve ever seen.” There could still be one or even two in the first round. But the overall depth clearly isn’t there.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 19, 2021
It’s true. This is not the year to be needing defensive tackle help.
The Draft Network has a big board of all the prospects compiled. According to their evaluations, none of the defensive tackles are worthy of going in the 1st round. Only eight are considered good enough to go on Day 2 in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Keep in mind not all of them would be considered prominent fits for the type of defense the Bears run. This is why Pace made the decision to bite the financial bullet and keep Hicks.
The chances of replacing what he brings to the defense in 2021 was next to impossible. By contrast, it’s a totally different story at cornerback. Four are expected to go in the 1st round with another nine who may come off the board in the 2nd and 3rd. It’s a much deeper position this year. This explains why Fuller was the one they ultimately chose to ax. A feeling they might be able to find a quality replacement in the draft.
Akiem Hicks may still be playing his last season in Chicago
His production took a noticeable dip last season. While he remains an effective core member of the defense, age tends to catch up more quickly at his position than others. He turns 32-years old in November and will be a free agent next offseason. Given the Bears are at a point where they need to start getting younger, it feels unlikely they will bring Hicks back in 2022. Not unless he’s willing to take a considerable discount on his next contract.
Presuming this is the case, they might still look to add a body to their defensive front. If for no other reason than to improve depth. Maybe someone with developmental upside. One name they might want to look at is Bobby Brown III of Texas A&M. He was a steady presence up front both as a run defender and interior pass rusher. Evaluators love his mixture of quickness and strength. What they aren’t sure about is his motor. It ran a little too hot and cold at times.
There could be others in play as well.
Either way, expect the Bears to be active on the defensive line by next offseason at the latest. Akiem Hicks remains a fixture for them, but his time runs short. Presuming he isn’t willing to negotiate a team-friendly extension at some point, he could be finishing up his career elsewhere in 2022. Another part of why the business of the NFL can really suck at times.