Akiem Hicks is doing his best to set aside frustration over his contract stalemate with the Bears — and so far, he seems pretty good at compartmentalizing.
The situation hasn’t derailed his play, and he was a rare bright spot defensively Sunday in the Bears’ season-opening 34-14 loss to the Rams.
Hicks also isn’t going to let the impasse torpedo a relationship that has been great for both sides. He vaulted to stardom as one of the NFL’s best and most highly paid defensive tackles when he signed with the Bears five years ago, and he remains optimistic about finishing his career with them.
“I’ll do everything in my power to do so,” he said Tuesday.
He added, “That’s what I want. That’s what I feel at the end of the day is right for me. I started a piece of my career here, and it grew and it blossomed, and I’ve just had so many joy-filled moments as a Chicago Bear. I can’t see myself in another jersey.”
Those tend to be famous last words around here. Just ask Kyle “Bear for Life” Long of the Chiefs.
Hicks, who turns 32 in November, is in the final season of a four-year, $48 million deal after his push for an extension from general manager Ryan Pace made no headway. The Bears cut star cornerback Kyle Fuller because of salary-cap cramps this year, and the next domino could be letting Hicks leave in free agency since they’re set up for another financial squeeze in 2022.
Hicks knows all that. He has been in the NFL a decade, so this is a familiar scenario. It weighs on him, but he can’t let it consume him.
“I’d be lying to say that it was never a present thought,” he said. “During the course of this offseason, there was a great deal of energy spent pondering how this was all gonna play out.
“Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose [how long you stay]. . . . I have to accept that. It’s a present thought in my mind, but it can’t be my main focus.”
That’s good, because the Bears need Hicks’ and everyone else’s full attention after their defensive debacle Sunday. They were still reeling Tuesday as they scrutinized some painful game film at Halas Hall. The secondary, in particular, did not enjoy sitting through clips of blown coverages and Rams receivers running free for long touchdowns from quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“There were truly a lot of ugly plays on every level,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “When you go to the film, sometimes it’s not as bad as you think. . . . But today was.”
Hicks finished his own film study, then headed to the South Side to give shoes to about 170 kids in foster care at SOS Children’s Villages. He stayed for selfies and autographs as he handed out the boxes.
It was an unusual setting for answering questions about his contract and the Bears’ defense capsizing in the opener — “I’m always surprised when we don’t play our best,” he said — but he had ducked reporters since the end of last season. He went all training camp without speaking, although there is no known rift between the media and one of the Bears’ most media-friendly players. He declined again Sunday after the Rams game, risking fines from the NFL. He gave a convoluted answer about his silence Tuesday, but the gist seemed to be he didn’t want to discuss a “battle about contract situations.”
After several minutes of talking about SOS Children’s Villages, the conversation shifted to questions everyone has been wanting answered for a while.
Here’s one: After months of the Bears not valuing Hicks at the level he believes they should, where do things stand between him and the organization?
“It’s business, and it’s very professional,” he said. “I’ve been hired to do a job, and the job isn’t done yet, so I’m going to continue to play and put my best foot forward and carry myself as the professional that I have been for my entire career.”
It can be tough going to work every day in such circumstances, as wide receiver Allen Robinson found out last season. Robinson hit his breaking point in Week 2 when he stripped his social media account of Bears imagery and floated the possibility of a trade.
Then he powered through for another excellent season. Hicks intends to do the same.
“Besides not feeling, maybe, [as]valued as you feel you should be — those [thoughts] go away when you step on the field,” Hicks said. “Those go away when you look the fans in their faces.”
But do they go away when he and the Bears circle back to the topic of his future? Because the conversation is far from over, and Hicks will have a hard time forgetting the team basically told him he’s not worth what he thinks he is.
One of the event hosts interjected at that moment to let Hicks know he was needed in another room. Hicks laughed and thanked him.
“I would love to dodge that question,” he said as he left.