The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to re-sign defensive end Akiem Hicks, but that could change sooner than later.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles addressed former Pro Bowler’s status in free agency on Tuesday, March 28, at the NFL Annual Meeting in Arizona. Hicks became a free agent on March 15 after his one year, $8 million deal expired.
“He’s someone on our radar,” Bowles told reporters. “We’re still keeping in touch and we’ll see how those things go. When he was healthy I thought he was very good. I thought he performed well and he fit in great. Him and Vita [Vea] are a very good force in there, and we’ll see going forward.”
When Hicks and Vea played together on the defensive front, the Bucs went 7-4 last year. Bringing back Hicks would keep that tandem intact in addition to adding depth amid recently signed defensive lineman Greg Gaines.
Hicks, 33, could command $5.5 million in free agency, per Spotrac, but no team has signed him yet. He ranks No. 170 in Pro Football Focus’ free agent rankings, and there’s three defensive lineman who remained unsigned and ranked ahead of Hicks.
Last season, Hicks tallied just a sack and 22 tackles amid a foot injury, which sidelined him for six games. Injuries have been a problem for Hicks in three of the past four seasons with a total of 26 games missed.
Finances remain the question since the Bucs sit at $4.28 million under the salary cap. The Bucs could sign Hicks for less in 2023 if he stays available in free agency long enough.
Tampa Bay will need to add to the defensive line if Hicks doesn’t return. The Bucs already lost Rakeem Nunez-Roches to the New York Giants. Defensive lineman Will Gholston is still testing free agency.
“Yeah, Will is an option, too,” Bowles said. “We’re in the middle of the process. We have guys out there. Obviously we had to cut some money and we have to work some tricks. Jason [Licht] has done a good job so far with that. We’ll navigate it going forward, but we’re still early in the process. There is still a lot to be done.”
Bucs Have Numerous Holes to Fill on Defense
The Bucs don’t just have the defensive line to worry about.
Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield also took a hit with safety Mike Edwards and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting departing in free agency. Linebacker remains a concern, too, as Shaquil Barrett rehabs from an ACL tear.
“We’re trying to find good football players,” Bowles said. “Obviously you hope Shaq [Barrett] comes back healthier. With Bunting and Edwards gone you lose some depth at that position in the secondary, obviously. Losing Nacho, but getting Gaines was a big plus for us there. We’ll see what happens.”
Bowles Plans to Move Antoine Winfield Jr.
Amid the changes to the defensive backfield, Bowles plans to move Antoine Winfield Jr. from strong safety to free safety. Winfield had a productive third season with four sacks, an interception, and 80 tackles.
“That’s my goal this year, I foresee,” Bowles said. “Winfield’s such a playmaker, he’s such a good tackler and you want him down there making tackles, but we talked about it and I told him I really wanted him to stay at free safety this year. And if we can help it, I’m gonna try to keep him there, and let him compensate on that. Because he is a ballhawk and we need more turnovers, so I’d like to leave him there.”