On Wednesday it was announced that the New England Patriots acquired defensive lineman Akiem Hicks from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Hicks is a 6’5″ 324 pound 25-year old in his fourth year in the NFL; he was drafted by the Saints in the third round (89th overall out of Regina (as in Saskatchewan, Canada) in the 2012 draft. Hicks was actually the Saints’ first selection in that draft; the second round pick was stolen by Roger Goodell for Bountygate and the first round pick was previously traded to the Patriots when New Orleans took running back Mark Ingram; the Pats ended up with running back Shane Vereen and were also able to trade up for Chandler Jones with that exchange.
Here is some commentary and reactions on the trade from The Big Easy – but first, an excerpt from his bio on the Saints’ website:
NFL CAREER – Possessing the size and strength to be able to handle double teams along the defensive line, the club’s third round draft choice in 2012 remained consistent in 2014. Hicks, who possesses the ability to play on both the outside and on the interior, played in 15 games with 14 starts at left defensive end opposite Cameron Jordan and finished second among Saints defensive linemen in tackles with 58 stops (36 solo) while adding two sacks and two passes defensed.
2014 – Played in 15 games with 14 starts at left defensive end before being placed on reserve/injured prior to season finale. Totaled 58 tackles (36 solo), two sacks and two passes defensed…
2013 – Started all 16 regular season games and both postseason contests at left defensive end opposite Cameron Jordan. In the regular season, led the New Orleans defensive line with 72 tackles (35 solo), while ranking third on the team with 4.5 sacks, dragging down QBs Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. In the postseason, added seven tackles (four solo) and half a sack of Eagles QB Nick Foles with Jordan…
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on September 21 that Hicks said he was benched versus the Buccaneers, a game that New Orleans lost at home after being favored by ten points.
New Orleans Saints starting defensive end Akiem Hicks played only 28 snaps in a 26-19 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Hicks was fairly blunt with the reasoning.
“I got benched,” Hicks said. “Going into the third (quarter).”
Hicks said he couldn’t say the reasoning behind the benching until he met with Saints coach Sean Payton that afternoon.
Payton, when asked later, said Hicks wasn’t benched.”
“It wasn’t benched. I told him, hey, we’re going to play some other guys here,” Payton said. “And that’s what we did.”
Payton said rotating defensive linemen is fairly typical, and the Saints have had a rotation throughout the preseason and into the regular season. Undrafted rookie free agent Bobby Richardson played 40 snaps on defense Sunday.
WWLTV notes that the trade came just after the Saints pushed some of Drew Brees‘ cap figure into the future to free up space this year, and apparently caught reporters by surprise.
The trade occurred several hours after it was announced that the team had restructured quarterback Drew Brees’ contract to free up some money for this season.
The trade must have occurred suddenly because reporters said Hicks was in the locker room Wednesday as normal. Hicks admitted he was ‘benched’ last week as the team continues to struggle with a lack of a pass rush.
Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the Saints are looking for help at tight end; while I understand that there is a void with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle, is Hooman and his 40 receptions in five-plus years the answer?
In a 2013 game against the Saints, (Hoomanawanui) had four catches for 57 yards.
Payton was asked on Wednesday morning if the Saints were still looking for ways to improve the roster and specifically mentioned the tight end position. Hoomanawanui will be the third tight end on the roster next to Ben Watson and Josh Hill.
“Yes, I think you’re still constantly paying attention to the areas, you know were still short at tight end and that’s an area that concerns me,” Payton said. “With regards to typically, we’ve always had three with one fullback, but there have been weeks where we may dress an extra fullback, but we’re right there that’s an area we’ve looked at and will continue to do so, but yeah I think that process doesn’t stop.”
Hicks, a 2012 third round draft pick out of Regina, was in the final year of his rookie contract and was set to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. He was the last remaining member of the 2012 draft class.
Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is of the opinion that this is part of a larger ‘housecleaning’ (is that a new way of saying ‘rebuilding’?) and that Hicks had ‘fallen out of favor’ (i.e., was in the doghouse).
The trade of Hicks is not all that surprising when you consider his diminishing role in the defense as the Saints turned to rookies Tyeler Davison and Bobby Richardson in recent weeks. Hicks’ snap count dwindled from 68 percent in Week 1 to 44 percent in Week 2 to 43 percent last week in Carolina.
The talented but inconsistent Hicks clearly had fallen out of favor with the team’s staff and brain trust.
Still, his precipitous fall from grace is startling when you consider just 13 months ago he was considered a lynchpin along the Saints’ defensive front.
The Saints have been in the market for a third tight end throughout the offseason. They have carried only two on the roster this season and desperately need to improve their in-line blocking at the position.
Duncan then turns his sights on the New Orleans’ scouting department – though to be fair, not with the venom we are all too familiar with in the Boston media.
The transaction further indicts the Saints’ college scouting department, which was overhauled in the offseason. Hicks was the only remaining player from the team’s five-man 2012 draft class still on the roster.
In the five NFL Drafts after winning the Super Bowl in 2009, the Saints selected 28 players. After the Hicks trade, six (21 percent) now remain on the roster. They are: Cam Jordan and Mark Ingram (2011); Kenny Vaccaro, Terron Armstead and John Jenkins (2012); and Brandin Cooks (2014).
By comparison, the Green Bay Packers still have 20 of the 45 players (44 percent) they selected in the 2010 to 2014 drafts.
Here are Hicks’ 2015 snap counts with commentary from a Saints blogger:
Week 1 at Cardinals: 40 (of 61) snaps; 14 run, 26 pass
In keeping with the rest of the defensive line (other than Cam Jordan), it was a somewhat inconsistent showing from Hicks on Sunday. #76 made a strong start on Sunday, giving RG Jonathan Cooper significant difficulties on several early plays. However, as the game went on Cooper improved and Hicks faded. Despite often having potentially favorable one-on-one matchups in the pass rush, Hicks only got to (Carson) Palmer’s vicinity twice on the day, too often allowing the Arizona QB to “step up” and avoid the edge rush from Jordan/Kikaha.
Week 2 vs. Bucs: 28 (of 66) snaps; 21 run, 7 pass
A disappointing day on a reduced count for Akiem Hicks in his hybrid DE/DT role. Hicks was largely anonymous in the running game – his only contribution being the occasional absorption of double teams up front. Otherwise he was largely controlled by NCAA D3 rookie RG Ali Marpet and Indy reject RT Gosder Cherilus. Hicks’ pass-rushing was non-existent, recording no pressures, hits or sacks on the day. Undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson outplayed #76 against the run, culminating in Hicks being benched mid-Q3.
Week 3 at Panthers: 28 (of 66) snaps: 14 run, 14 pass
For the second consecutive week Akiem Hicks found himself on a reduced snap count and, for the second consecutive week, was relatively anonymous on the field. He spent most of his snaps lined up inside as a DT rather than a DE. Hicks flashed his bull-rushing ability inside when fighting off a C/G double-team block in the 4th quarter, but couldn’t get to Newton. Otherwise Hicks was largely controlled by the Panthers, showing very little of the explosive ability and turn of foot we’d been hearing about in the offseason. #76 had one stop on the day.