DT Akiem Hicks still hopes to retire as a Bear despite contract stalemate

DT Akiem Hicks still hopes to retire as a Bear despite contract stalemate

Hicks had half a sack, three tackles and two quarterback hits against the Rams in the season opener. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Hicks said he’s determined to keep the contract situation from taking the joy out of the game for him and is optimistic that he and the Bears can work things out.

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.

That situation hasn’t derailed his play, and he was a rare bright spot defensively in the season-opening 34-14 loss to the Rams.

He also isn’t going to let it torpedo a relationship that’s been great for both sides. Hicks 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 remained 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 Kansas City Chiefs.

Hicks, who turns 32 in November, is in the final season of a four-year, $48 million deal after his push for a contract extension from general manager Ryan Pace made no headway. The team 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 next year.

Hicks knows all that. He’s 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,” Hicks 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 his and everyone else’s full attention after their defensive debacle Sunday. They were still reeling 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 Matt 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 in which to answer questions about his contract and the Bears’ defense capsizing in the opener — “I’m always surprised when we don’t play our best,” Hicks said — but he had ducked the media since the end of last season.

He went all training camp without speaking, though there is no known rift between the press and one of the Bears’ most media-friendly players, and declined again after the Rams game — risking fines from the NFL. He gave a convoluted answer about his silence Tuesday, but the gist seemed to be that he didn’t want to discuss a “battle about contract situations.”

So after several minutes of talking about SOS Children’s Villages, the conversation shifted to questions everyone’s 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 under in circumstances, as wide receiver Allen Robinson saw 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, 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 that the team basically told him he’s not worth what he thinks he is.

It was just then that one of the event hosts interjected to let him know he was needed in another room.

Hicks laughed and thanked him.

“I would love to dodge that question,” he said as he left.

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