Top 25 most important Bears in 2021: No. 8 Akiem Hicks

With Hicks entering the final year of his contract, Bears need to take advantage of his presence in 2021

Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.

What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?

Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be?), but he certainly is among the most important.

No. 8 Akiem Hicks

Position: Defensive tackle

NFL Experience: 10th year

Looking back: Akiem Hicks started off the 2020 season strong, with all 3.5 of his sacks last season coming in the first three games. He led the Bears with 21 quarterback hits for the season, and totaled 48 total tackles in 15 games.

A year earlier, Hicks’ missed 11 total games, including more than half the season with an elbow injury. In 2020, Hicks remained mostly healthy. A hamstring injury against Minnesota in Week 10 caused him to miss the Bears’ first meeting with Green Bay in late November. While the injury might’ve affected Hicks down the stretch, he was healthy enough to play through the end of the season.

Looking forward: Hicks, 31, enters the final year of his contract in 2021. This will be his sixth season in Chicago, and potentially his last. Rumors swirled over the offseason that Hicks might be a trade candidate thanks to his $12 million salary cap hit in 2021, but ultimately nothing came of it. It’s unclear if the Bears are willing to pay the former Pro Bowl tackle what he’s asking for. It stands to reason that an extension would’ve been done by now if the two sides were on the same page.

Whether or not they can complete an extension, the Bears need Hicks – more importantly, they need a healthy Hicks – in 2021. The team’s downward slide in 2019 began, partially, with Hicks’ elbow injury, which certainly wasn’t a coincidence. When Hicks is in the game, opponents have to work a lot harder to create holes in the run game. Plus he’s a respected voice in the locker room. He’s serious when he needs to be, but he can also lighten the mood with his wide smile and fun-loving personality. With Hicks’ long-term future unclear, the Bears need to make use of every snap they can with him.

In case you missed it: Previous installments of the top 25

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.