Unlike most Chicago Bears, defensive end Akiem Hicks never laid down this past autumn. The 28-year-old Hicks, who signed a four-year contract extension valued at $48 million in September, started 16 games this season and finished with 54 tackles and 8.5 sacks. Playing in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defensive alignment, the 6-foot-5, 335-pound Hicks also smothered running attacks and freed space for his teammates upfront by constantly drawing double-teams. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Jonathan Bullard particularly benefited from Hicks’ interior dominance and showed glimpses of brilliance.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace assembled a 53-man roster that was primarily devoid of talent. Hence, Chicago went 5-11, finished in the NFC North’s basement for the third consecutive campaign, and again failed to have one of its players voted to the Pro Bowl. Still, Pace shrewdly extended Hicks’ agreement at the ideal time in his professional career. Hicks, Goldman and Bullard are a formidable trio that should overpower offensive lines well into the 2020s. Pace now needs to use the team’s $48 million in salary cap space and seven draft picks to upgrade its coverage, blocking, pass-rushing and wide-receiving units.
Pace has the necessary resources to significantly improve the Bears this offseason. In the meantime, Pace deserves kudos for securing the services of Hicks for another four seasons. Akiem Hicks, arguably one of Chicago’s wisest free-agent acquisitions this decade, was the Bears’ premier player in 2017.