Akiem Hicks joining Bucs after 6 years with Bears

Hicks was never expected to return to Chicago, and seemed to come to terms with that fact during the course of last season after trying, unsuccessfully, to sign an extension during training camp.

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After six years as one of the Bears’ most dominant players — when healthy — defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is heading to Tampa Bay.

After six years as one of the Bears’ most dominant players — when healthy — defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is heading to Tampa Bay.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

Defensive end Akiem Hicks was Ryan Pace’s best free-agent signing as the Bears’ general manager. But he was never a part of the plan under new GM Ryan Poles.

Hicks, who played at a Pro Bowl level throughout his six-year run with the Bears but missed 20 games because of injuries over his last three seasons, agreed to terms Tuesday with the Buccaneers on a one-year contract with incentives that sources said could be worth up to $10 million.

Hicks’ departure was not unexpected. He anticipated that his days in Chicago were numbered after the Bears rebuffed efforts for a contract extension as his four-year, $48 million deal entered its final season in 2021.

The 32-year-old Hicks, who made the Pro Bowl in 2018, still was a productive player. But his impact had diminished since 2020, when he had 3½ sacks in the Bears’ first three games and none in the final 14, including the playoffs.

Wear-and-tear was a bigger factor. Hicks missed 11 games with an elbow injury in 2019. He was slowed by a groin injury in 2020. And he missed eight games with groin and ankle injuries in 2021. After playing 52 consecutive games with the Bears in 2016-19, he missed 20 of his final 47 games.

With the Bears transitioning to a 4-3 defense under new coach Matt Eberflus, Hicks’ role was unclear. After four seasons as a 4-3 defensive end with the Saints and Patriots in 2012-15, he blossomed in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense with the Bears. And with the Bears seemingly in rebuild mode under Eberflus, Hicks was no longer a sure thing.

Still, Hicks will be fondly remembered in Chicago, where he was a fan favorite as an emotional leader who played a key role in the rise of Fangio’s defense with stellar play as a pass rusher and run stopper.

After finishing the 2015 season with the Patriots, he turned down a personal plea from Bill Belichick to sign a two-year, $10 million contract with the Bears, who were coming off a 6-10 season under John Fox. After an impressive first season in 2016, Hicks signed a four-year, $48 million extension before the 2017 season. He played at an even higher level under the new deal — with 8½ sacks in 2017 and 7½ sacks in 2018 — as the Bears’ defense improved from 24th in points allowed in 2016 to ninth in 2017 and first in 2018.

But by the end of last season — after not getting another extension — he saw the end coming.

“If I do end up leaving, I’ll miss it here,” he said after a 17-9 loss to the Vikings on “Monday Night Football” in December. “I truly love my time.”

Patrick Finley contributed to this story.

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