Even though the Chicago Bears didn’t land the big fish in free agency during the offseason, they still could make a major move before the 2017 season officially kicks off.
During the 2016 free agent signing period, Akiem Hicks signed a modest two-year deal with the Bears worth $10 million to fill a hole along the defensive line. He then put together a season in which he made 16 starts for the first time since 2013, and set career bests with seven sacks and 36 tackles.
Hicks’ 83.1 grade from Pro Football Focus put him as the 15th highest-graded interior defender according to the site’s scale. Only two other players who will suit up for NFC North teams in the season to come had a higher grade than what Hicks earned in 2016. If not for it being a crowded position group, Hicks’ probably could have garnered some attention for a potential Pro Bowl invitation. Instead, he’ll have to settle for setting himself up for what could be a major payday, whether it comes from the Bears or one of the other 31 teams in the NFL.
With that in mind, Connor Byrne of Pro Football Rumors writes about Hicks as a potential extension candidate this summer – a move that would keep Hicks from hitting the free agent market altogether.
Earlier in the offseason, Hicks said he would re-sign in a heartbeat if the deal was right – and surely defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would like to have a player of Hicks’ caliber in the fold as the Bears’ defense grows.
Chicago could fall back on using the franchise tag to retain Hicks for another season, but it would be costly. This offseason, the franchise tag number for defensive end was $17 million, and that only figures to go up. The Bears last used the tag in 2016, in what turned out to be Alshon Jeffery’s last season with the Bears.
Even though the franchise tag could be in play, it would behoove both sides to get a multi-year deal done – assuming Hicks truly likes being in Chicago and Pace wants to keep Hicks with the Bears for multiple seasons. But it’s fair to ask what would a fair price cost for a player who had a superb year after playing the preceding years as an average to slightly above average player?
Byrne lists Calais Campbell, Kawann Short, Fletcher Cox, Damon Harrison, Mike Daniels, and Malik Jackson as players who ranked among PFF’s top-15 interior defenders who have received big contracts in the last two seasons. Here is how those contracts look:
- (PFF No. 2) Campbell – Four years, $30 million guaranteed (March 2017)
- (PFF No. 3) Short – Five years, $35 million guaranteed (April 2017)
- (PFF No. 5) Cox – Six years, $63 million guaranteed (June 2016)
- (PFF No. 12) Jackson – Six years, $42 million guaranteed (March 2016)
- (PFF No. 7) Harrison – Five years, $24 million guaranteed (March 2016)
- (PFF No. 9) Daniels – Four years, $12 million guaranteed (December 2015)
The dream would be to get the kind of money Cox received from the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was entering his age 26 season following a Pro Bowl appearance the year before. Jackson was going into his age 26 season when he signed a free agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Daniels was wrapping up his age 26 season before the Green Bay Packers locked him into a long-term deal in 2015. Campbell will turn 31 in September, but still received $30 million in guarantees and a four-year deal.
All things considered, the deals signed by Harrison, Daniels, and Campbell should provide an idea of what Hicks should be looking for and what the Bears should be prepared to pay if they want to keep a player like Hicks in Chicago.
The Bears aren’t loaded with players looking for or being worthy of a significant pay raise, so that could work in Hicks’ favor if he is truly looking to stay in Chicago. As far as making an investment in Hicks is concerned, he seems to be an ideal fit for GM Ryan Pace. Hicks will turn 28 in November, meaning an extension would start while still he’s still in his prime. A potential agreement between Hicks and the Bears could be beneficial to both sides with the player getting a nice raise, while the team receives some prime-year production.