According to multiple reports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth up to $10 million with free-agent defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who should immediately slot into Tampa’s starting lineup next to pocket wrecker Vita Vea while having a profound impact in the trenches. New Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers will be thrilled to add Hicks to their defensive rotation.
Hicks is expected to play the 3-4 end role in Bowles’ defensive scheme which places emphasis on interior rotation. It’s an excellent fit and landing spot for Hicks, who is best utilized as a part-time player going forward. It’s worth remembering that General Manager Jason Licht drafted former Houston Cougar defensive lineman Logan Hall with the No. 33 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hall is a player with inside-outside versatility that will spell Hicks at times while softly working into Tampa’s competitive rotation, much like Joe Tryon-Shoyinka did last season. The Buccaneers won’t ask Hicks to play 90-plus percent of snaps on a weekly basis, and that leans favorably to keeping an aging Hicks fresh and healthy. The onus would still be placed on Hicks to prove he’s gotten past his nagging injuries while maintaining his overall effectiveness.
Speaking of, health is the big question mark surrounding Hicks, who played just nine games in 2021, recording 3.5 sacks and just nine quarterback hits while nursing various neck and groin injuries throughout the majority of the campaign. Injury concerns aren’t exactly a recent reveal for Hicks, who has appeared in just 20 of the past 49 contests and is entering his age 33 season. But Hicks is an extremely effective pass rusher when healthy and the Buccaneers’ training staff will do everything within its power to keep Hicks available and on the field.
This deal carries multiple ramifications. Most notably, it likely spells the end for unrestricted free agent Ndamukong Suh in Tampa Bay, with Hicks expected to fill Suh’s previous role. Suh and his representation have failed to reach a middle ground with the Bucs in regards to his worth this offseason. Suh played last season on a one-year deal worth $9 million and is likely searching for similar compensation in 2022. Suh has spent the previous three campaigns in Tampa Bay and played a massive role in their Super Bowl LV triumph. Suh’s performances took a step backwards in 2021, but the Portland, Oregon native still recorded 6.0 sacks and is capable of being a difference-maker on a contender. Suh must now pivot and search for opportunities elsewhere.
It also further cements a period of transition for Hicks’ former team. He spent the previous six seasons with the Bears and will go down as a Chicago legend. Throughout that successful era, Hicks was a consistent thorn in the backside of opposing NFC North quarterbacks, totaling 31.0 sacks as a Bear. New Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Poles is embracing a much-needed rebuild and the writing was always on the wall for Hicks, who also happens to be a poor fit for Head Coach Matt Eberflus‘ incoming defensive makeover, but the Bears were never going to invest in a defender that’s swiftly approaching his mid 30s.
With Tom Brady back in the fold after a short-lived retirement, the Bucs are prepping to make yet another run at a Super Bowl. Licht has faced some salary cap related difficulties this offseason, but has managed to navigate through those troubles while stringing together what promises to be a fairly loaded 53-man roster. Furthermore, the “up to” language involved in Hicks’ contract likely leaves the financial breathing room necessary for tight end Rob Gronkowski to return to Tampa ahead of the 2022 campaign should he decide to resume his playing career.
Hicks now joins a stellar and balanced Bucs defense that recorded 47.0 sacks last season. Bowles’ unit also held opposing offenses to 92.5 rushing yards and 20.8 points per contest. Hicks could prove to be a massive addition for a Bucs franchise that could win Super Bowl LVII.