Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has become a dominant force for Chicago. He landed there as a free agent, after his rookie contract expired while with the Patriots. He landed in New England in a less conventional way.
Yes, a trade sent Hicks from the Saints to the Patriots early in the 2015. The trade reportedly was sparked by an incident between Hicks and Saints coach Sean Payton.
As explained by Dan Pompei of TheAthletic.com, Hicks was benched for an undrafted rookie during a loss to the Panthers. This triggered a “heated exchange” between Hicks and Payton.
Hicks supposedly refused to return to the game, a contention that he denies. Later that night, Payton and Hicks exchanged “[m]ore heated words” by phone. The following week, Payton informed Hicks that he’d been traded to the Patriots.
The move stunned Hicks.
“It was the absolute lowest point of my life,” Hicks told Pompei. “At 14, I fell in love with the game, watching clips from NFL Films. When you are all in, with your entire self, chasing a dream, pushing aside everything that can get in the way including friends and family, it becomes you. So when I got to that point when I was traded, I felt like, it wouldn’t happen. I suck. I’m not a good player. I’m going to be forgotten. I felt like it was over. I’m not what I thought I was all these years. . . . It’s not a good place I was in.”
Hicks finished the season with the Patriots, before signing with the Bears in 2016. And Hicks has gotten better and better during his three seasons in Chicago, proving his assessment of his own skills accurate — even if it took a little while for him to reach his full potential.