Chicago Bears should not extend Akiem Hicks

Chicago Bears (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Akiem Hicks has been a valued asset on the Chicago Bears and ascended into elite status with the team after bouncing around the NFL. Given that Hick’s best days were in Chicago, and fans love the grizzly bear-looking defensive lineman, it makes a ton of sense that both sides would like to get an extension done as Hicks enters the last year of his contract.

Reports out of training camp were that Drew Rosenhaus was meeting with the Bears brass and that they would be discussing a potential extension for Hicks. On paper, it sounds great and sounds like both sides are for it. However, the Bears should think twice before extending Hicks.

Age and Injuries

Hicks’ agent noted that this contract would be one that would ensure that Hicks ends his career with Chicago. That is because Hicks likely has 2-3 more years left. Hicks had a great prime in Chicago, but the reality is that he is now entering his age 32 seasons. He is now past his prime and holding onto whatever he has left.

In 2020, Hicks missed ten games after an ironman run of being one of the healthiest vets on the team. Hicks was relatively healthy in 2021 but did miss one game. He also saw a dip in production, dropping from 7, 8.5, and 7.5 sacks in his first three years with Chicago to just 3.5 sacks in 2020.

This was expected as we looked into the chances that Hicks injury in 2020 may have been the end of the road for him being elite. We found that many linemen in their 30s can be solid and contribute, but none will return the form Hicks had in 2019 or 2018.

At some point, you have to stop paying for past production and realize that future production may not be worth it.

Kicking the Can down the line

One argument for extending hicks is that the Bears could save cap space. Hicks is on the books for $12 million against the cap this year. Many would like Hicks to take a pay cut from that number to stay with the team for his last few years, but the Pittsburgh Steelers just gave Cam Heyward a raise, and he is at a similar age. Hicks would have to swallow a lot of pride not to come in around that number.

Still, even if Hicks came in at a higher number, they could, in theory, give him a big signing bonus which would lower his 2021 cap hit. The issue with that is that as much as you shave off of his 2021 cap hit, you then sprinkle dead money across the remaining years in the future.

It sounds excellent to free up that space until you want a little more room in 2023 and see that Hicks has an inflated salary. Considering the team is just not embarking on a QB with a rookie contract, and four more years of it, they should try to keep their future cap clean and wait to spend around the needs of the future team built around Justin Fields.

Invest in the youth

Beyond the reality that Hicks is aging and will not be a core leader when Justin Fields hits his prime is the fact that Bilal Nichols is right beside him. Hicks was great last season, but Nichols recorded a few more sacks. Beyond that, Nichols is 24, when most players hit their prime years at 25. Hick’s best seasons were age 27-29. The Chicago Bears need Nichols to be here when he hits that 27-29 age range.

That means extending Nichols over Hicks. Even if Nichols is going to get similar money to Hicks, to some fans, it would be blasphemy to hand a contract that is set for Hicks to the younger Nichols. However, the wise move is to bet on the future. Years 25-29 of Nichols are going to be more valuable than 32-36 of Hicks. It is a younger ascending player.

The best move for the Bears would be to let Hicks play this season out. The odds are that he will be good, but not his elite self, which may help them at the negotiating table. It may take Hicks a trip to a few other facilities and hearing their offers next year in free agency before he realizes that Chicago is not lowballing him but rather paying for his age.

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If the Bears were paying for the past and getting past production, Hicks is a no-brainer to extend. With an eye on the future, the Bears should keep the roster as young as possible and not tie up money into Akiem Hicks quite yet.