The second wave of the 2022 NFL free agency period is off and running at a furious pace. As players continue to sign during free agency, rumors for DT Akiem Hicks continue to be discussed. Which NFL teams need additional defensive line help and could benefit the most from acquiring Hicks in free agency?
Rumors for Akiem Hicks in 2022 NFL free agency
The top-ranked interior defensive lineman still available, Hicks, remains a free agent as the second wave of free agency pushes forward. Chicago is in the midst of a complete overhaul from the top-down after firing head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace.
In their place, Chicago hired Matt Eberflus as HC and Ryan Poles as the acting GM. Eberflus’ arrival means a change in defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and that might mean Hicks is no longer a fit.
Hicks is a mountain on the interior, and the 32-year-old 330-pounder is one of the better run stuffers in the NFL. Unfortunately, age and injuries have started to become all too common. Since 2019, Hicks has played in nine or more games once after missing three games total in his first six seasons.
However, in the nine games he played in 2021, Hicks proved he still could play, recording 3.5 sacks, 25 tackles (5 for loss), 9 quarterback hits, and 11 pressures. Given the need for a stout presence up the middle, what are the rumors suggesting about Hicks and his current free agent market?
The Browns have expressed interest in Hicks
With most of the conversation surrounding QB Deshaun Watson and current free agent Jadeveon Clowney, reports of the Browns’ interest in Hicks have gone somewhat under the radar.
According to sources, Evan Massey of NFL Analysis Network has reported that the Browns have expressed interest in signing Hicks to fill their DT needs.
Hicks is a talented, two-gapping run stuffer that would be a perfect fit for the Browns. Opposing teams would struggle to give the requisite attention to him while also stopping All-Pro EDGE Myles Garrett. It would also help to fill the holes left by the departures of Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi.
Cleveland could use Hicks in a rotation with newly signed Taven Bryan. It’s unlikely they would feel comfortable using Hicks on every down given his age and durability concerns.
Could Hicks sign with the Las Vegas Raiders to bolster their defensive front?
The Raiders have come to life over the last week. For one, they made a trade for Davante Adams that shocked the NFL landscape. Additionally, they signed Chandler Jones to create a devastating 1-2 punch off the edge with Maxx Crosby.
Another move they made was trading away a highly productive Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts for CB Rock Ya-Sin. Also added was DL Bilal Nichols. I wouldn’t be shocked if we also saw Hicks courted in free agency as well.
I say this as new Raiders DC Patrick Graham has preached being flexible in defensive schemes. “So you say 4-3, 3-4, 2-4, 3-3-5, whatever you want to say, I’ll say yes,” Graham previously stated. “We are going to do what’s best with what we have in terms of the people, the personnel we have, and what we think is best for the game.”
Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas, Gerald McCoy, and Darius Philon all either remain unsigned or are on other teams. This makes depth at interior DL a critical aspect of the Raiders’ free agency moves. With more pressure on the edge, I would not be surprised to see rumors begin to circulate linking Hicks and Las Vegas.
Green Bay still needs defensive line help
The Packers’ run defense has been a consistent issue. Green Bay has ranked 21st or worse in five of the last seven seasons. The defense has been built up front around Kenny Clark, but much of the depth is gone with Tyler Lancaster and Kingsley Keke free agents. Dean Lowry is on the last year of his deal, and T.J. Slaton is a second-year player with a lot to prove.
Add in Za’Darius Smith now a Minnesota Viking, and it’s apparent the Packers need to rework this defensive unit. Hicks could make a ton of sense for the Packers as he requires a double-team on every play. The Packers have more than enough salary cap space to play with ($58.4M). They could get Hicks on a team-friendly deal if he wants to play for a contender.