Akiem Hicks May Be Upgrade Over Ndamukong Suh If Tampa Bay’s Gamble Works

The theme for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday focused on their interior defensive line and if you didn’t immediately realize that, all you had to do was see the prominent visitor on the field.

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp was at the Bucs’ training facility — talking to some coaches and players, laughing, advising, hoping to improve his former team’s defensive line.

“We have a good relationship, and we wanted to bring him in to teach the [defensive] line a few things,” coach Todd Bowles told reporters. “[Defensive line] coach [Kacy] Rodgers and [assistant defensive line coach] [Lori Locust] were all for it. So, I thought it would be a good idea to learn from a guy that’s done it recently, or more recently than the coaches have, and it would be good for the guys to hear and see a different perspective.”

The perspective is indeed going to be different for the Buccaneers’ interior defensive line in 2022. And, again, Tuesday proved that.

The team signed veteran Akiem Hicks to a one-year contract worth approximately $8 million with another $2 million in incentives, per a source.

And that move basically ended Tampa’s association with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is also a free agent and has been testing the market for a deal worth approximately $9 million-$10 million per season, according to a source.

So Hicks gets the money the Bucs allocated for Suh.

Suh continues to be rumored to other teams, including the Las Vegas Raiders and even Arizona Cardinals where he’d be reunited with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

But while Hicks takes the money and spot originally set for Suh, the two are not necessarily alike in what they bring.

Suh, 35 years old, has 14.5 sacks and 46 quarterback hits the last three seasons he spent in Tampa. He has been something of an iron man, as he’s been all of his career, missing no starts and playing 77, 74 and 62 percent of the team’s defensive snaps the past three seasons.

Hicks, 32, has been at times a more dynamic pass rusher than Suh — particularly from 2016 to 2018 when he collected 23 sacks. But the last three years have been less consistent as Hicks collected only 8 sacks while missing 20 starts because of injuries.

Make no mistake: Hicks is outstanding when he’s healthy.

The problem is he hasn’t been healthy often enough the past three seasons, playing only 55 percent of the snaps in 2019 and 54 percent last season.

So the Buccaneers are betting Hicks will be able to avoid injuries. And part of the reason they like their gamble is because they’re not asking Hicks to play 700 snaps. Or perhaps even half that.

Hicks is expected to be starting but he’s also destined to be part of a defensive line rotation.

And that seems like a solid plan considering the talent the Bucs boast at defensive tackle:

Vita Vea.

Hicks.

William Gholston.

Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

And second round pick Logan Hall.

Hall is the future but he’s also a bit of a project.

“Well, we like his athleticism,” Bowles said. “He’s learning how to play with his pads lower – taking on double teams and understanding when to drop his knee and not just bouncing up and rushing the passer.

“But, he’s a very good athlete. We haven’t had that kind of athlete inside in a while – since we’ve been here. We just look forward to him getting better scheme-wise and then taking advantage of his athleticism.”

The point of this interior talent is to continue to stop the run first. And, yes, last season Tampa Bay was third in the NFL in run defense.

But with a younger Hicks (if healthy), the idea is also to keep opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket to give themselves time to throw.

It’s a sound plan. As long as Akiem Hicks stays healthy.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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