Bears

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

akiemhicksinsider031316.png

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 CSNChicago.com’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.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

burton-1014.jpg
USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

usatsi_11491582.jpg
USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed.