Bears bolster front seven, sign DL Akiem Hicks to two-year deal


Bears bolster front seven, sign DL Akiem Hicks to two-year deal

Money always matters in matters of free agency but it is increasingly apparent that coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace are nothing if not salesmen.

First it was linebacker Danny Trevathan, who played for Fox in Denver and said that Fox was most definitely a major factor in his decision to choose the Bears on the first day of free agency. Then came Saturday’s signing of former Indianapolis linebacker Jerrell Freeman, whose impression of Fox came from joint Colts-Bears practice last August and carried through talks that concluded with a second new inside linebacker.

Now comes defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, a massive (6-5, 324 pounds) part of a very good New England Patriots defense and whom the Patriots wanted to re-sign. Hicks was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft by the New Orleans Saints while Pace was with the Saints’ personnel department as director of pro scouting.

[MORE: Bears' free agents arrive with some quirks]

The Patriots understood Hicks’ wish to explore his options in his first opportunity to reach the open market and typically as players in that situation for the chance to match or top any serious offer to the four-year veteran of both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.

New England was no match, however, for Pace and the Bears, who landed Hicks with a two-year contract that cements in place a critical addition to a defense intent on taking a huge step from year one to two under Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio.

Need trumps best-available in free agency

While the successful drafting is based on securing best players available rather than over-drafting a player based on a need, free agency is precisely the opposite, where need is typically trump.

The Bears were among the NFL’s poorest at stopping the run, ranking 26th by giving up 4.5 yards per carry and 103 rushing first downs, tied for 25th. Part of problem traced to losing anticipated defensive starters Ego Ferguson, Ray McDonald and Jeremiah Ratliff for various reasons (Ferguson to knee surgery), and even rookie Eddie Goldman to injured reserve for game 16.

Accordingly, the Bears made Hicks a priority in their initial wave of targets in free agency. Hicks, No. 2 on’s ranking of interior defensive linemen (behind only Jaye Howard, who opted to remain with the Kansas City Chiefs for $6 million per year), was a stout part of a New England Patriots defense ranked ninth against the run.

Hicks, 26, was traded from New Orleans to the Patriots for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He is regarded as an ascending player with significant upside after netting three sacks in 13 New England games last season and playing as an end in the 3-4 schemes with New Orleans and New England. His top sack total of 4.5 came in 2013 when the Saints finished 11-5 with the NFL’s No. 4 defense.

Building power base

Where once not all that long ago the Bears had no defensive linemen bigger than Ratliff’s 303 pounds, Hicks at one of the defensive end/tackle spots puts 324 pounds alongside Goldman’s 334. The Bears have Ferguson under contract for two more years in addition to undersized but productive and versatile Will Sutton.

And they have the 2016 draft, widely regarded as one of the best ever for defensive linemen.

The defenses of Lovie Smith utilized smaller defensive linemen tasked with penetration of one gap between two offensive linemen. The 3-4 of John Fox/Fangio is closer to a two-gap base system, anchored by a nose tackle and linemen capable of preventing blockers from reaching linebackers and second levels of the defense.

Like Goldman (4.5 sacks in ’15), Hicks is considered a pocket collapser.

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20. 

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start from new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."