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Bears reach four-year extension with defensive lineman Akiem Hicks

Defensive end Akiem Hicks wouldn’t say last month if a new contract was on the “goal board” he keeps at home. But it should’ve been.
The 6-5, 332-pounder is 27, coming off the best season of his career, playing in a defense that suits him — for a coordinator who knows how to get the most out of young, up-and-coming talent. And from the first day of training camp, Hicks looked primed for a breakout year. The timing couldn’t have been much better.
So it was not a big surprise Saturday that the Bears signed Hicks to a four-year, $48 million extension through the 2021 season, with $30 million guaranteed. The deal makes Hicks the highest-paid defensive player on the team and second overall behind Mike Glennon.
Hicks could’ve rolled the dice and tried to parlay a possible Pro Bowl season into a bonanza. But as a player from relatively humble beginnings — from being ruled ineligible at LSU to Sacramento City College to the University of Regina in Canada to the third round of the 2012 draft — Hicks has an appreciation for being in the right spot at the right time, and he knows this is it.
After struggling to make a big impact in three seasons with the Saints, Hicks had success with the Patriots in 2015 after a midseason trade. He turned down a pitch from Bill Belichick to sign with the Bears — enticed in part by his role in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. Hicks started all 16 games last season and had career highs in tackles (71) and sacks (seven), with five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“It’s not the most glamorous position, but it’s fun,” Hicks said last year. “I get to be a little more gritty. I’m going to have double teams and at times triple teams, and I’ve got to be able to fight my way out, and that’s what excites me.
“That’s partially why I chose to come here, because I saw what Vic was able to do with his 3-4 defensive ends. He had an athletic guy, and he had a grinder in Justin Smith. I appreciated that and knew that if I understood the defense, there would be success to be had.”
Hicks’ grinder mentality is a perfect fit for a defense and a team building from the bottom. To have a player so willing to work for everything he gets rather than lean on his athletic gifts or thrive mostly with the wind at his back on third-and-long sets a great example for an entire defense. And everybody knows Hicks could’ve won a Super Bowl with the Patriots last season. Instead, he went 3-13 with the Bears.
“I came here because I had the chance to build a winning organization,” Hicks said last year. “The Patriots are going to be the Patriots with or without me. I have an opportunity here to help build a great team, and that’s so enticing to me in my spirit as a football player.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.
Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks is returning to New Orleans. (Getty Images)