Bears Shopping 2 Fan Favorite Defensive Starters: Report

Kyle Fuller Bears

Getty Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson of the Chicago Bears

Two fan favorite defenders are rumored to be on the trade block for the Chicago Bears, and there is a very real chance one or both could be gone soon. All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive end Akiem Hicks have been with the team a combined 11 seasons, and have been leaders in the secondary and on the defensive line, respectively. Losing one would leave a huge hole and subsequent void. Losing both might be too much for a defense that doesn’t have all that much juice left.

A former pick by the Bears in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft (14th overall), Fuller has spent his first six seasons in Chicago, and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2018 while also making two Pro Bowls (2018-19). Hicks came to the Windy City in 2016 after spending time with the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, and his impact was felt immediately. He became an immediate fan favorite, made the Pro Bowl after an incredible 2018 season and has been the heart and soul of the defense since his arrival.

Now, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears are shopping both Fuller and Hicks, looking to see what they may be able to get via trade.

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Akiem Hicks Could Be Ultimately Released 

Hicks turns 32-years-old next November, and his age could ultimately wind up being a key determining factor. So could his recent injury history. After starting all 16 games for the Bears in his first three seasons with the team, Hicks missed 12 games in 2019 with a gruesome elbow injury, and a hamstring issue nagged him last season, forcing him to miss an important conference matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

Hicks earned a 66.0 overall grade on defense from Pro Football Focus last season, his lowest since joining the Bears in 2016. He also earned a 72.7 pass rush grade, and he has established himself as the team’s elite run stopper, averaging a grade of 79.7 against the run in his five years with the team. In 2020, on 795 total snaps (294 against the run, 499 on pass rush), Hicks had four sacks, 50 total pressures, 30 hurries and 16 quarterback hits.

Other than missing the entire 2016 season due to a knee injury, Fuller has been the epitome of durability at the corner position for the Bears. He has played in all 16 games in his six years in the league, starting all but two, and that was during his rookie campaign. Fuller led the NFL in interceptions (seven) and passes defensed (21) in 2018, when he earned first-team All-Pro honors. His production has slipped a bit since, but he’s still one of the most reliable and talented corners in the league.

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The Latest on a Possible Trade for Fuller & Hicks

Here’s what Bears insider Biggs had to say about the current situation with Fuller and Hicks:

The Bears could wind up releasing cornerback Kyle Fuller in a move that would have saved $11 million against the salary cap. There were also questions about defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Both players are entering the final year of their contracts. Fuller is scheduled to earn $14 million with a $20 million cap hit, and Hicks is scheduled to earn $10.5 million with a $12 million cap hit. Both, of course, are foundational pieces of the defense. Conventional thinking has been the Bears would find a way to sign Fuller to a contract extension to keep him in place for maybe two more years and reduce his cap hit by several million dollars in the process. That might remain a possibility, but no deal has been announced. On Wednesday night, there were rumblings in league circles that Hicks could be available in a trade. The team would save $10.5 million in cap space if it found a taker for the 31-year-old.

As Biggs notes, the cap savings with both Hicks and Fuller gone would be a nice chunk of change for the Bears, with the team slated to commit $32.5 million to them both combined next season. Still, it would be an ill-advised move for Chicago to unload both players, particularly Fuller, who, if released, could wind up opposite Jaire Alexander in Green Bay, a team that wanted to sign him not that long ago.

Cutting ties with Fuller would also force the Bears to find a suitable replacement, and they’d essentially be creating another hole they don’t currently have, which would make very little sense. Still, considering GM Ryan Pace’s track record, anything is possible.

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