The Minnesota Vikings stumbled out of the gate against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, highlighting some obvious roster deficiencies in the process.
One area of note that could be improved is Minnesota’s pressure up the middle of the defensive front. The Vikings finished the afternoon Sunday with just one sack, which came from outside linebacker and edge-rush specialist Danielle Hunter. The defense mustered just two hits on Bucs QB Baker Mayfield, the aforementioned sack from Hunter being one of those and the other coming from undrafted free agent rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.
The Bleacher Report NFL Staff on Monday, September 11, put together a list of teams’ biggest weaknesses and needs now, and in free agency next spring. Among the advice in that column was that the Vikings should pursue former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks immediately.
Akiem Hicks Adept at Breaking Down Pockets with Pressure up the Middle
GettyDefensive lineman Akiem Hicks, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reacts after a play during an NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons in January 2023.
Hicks most recently played in Tampa Bay, starting 11 games for the team last season. He joined the Bucs after a six-year run in Chicago, during which he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2018.
While Hicks has never been a prolific pass-rusher, he has amassed 41.5 career sacks and 115 QB hits, excelling at applying pressure to the pocket up the middle. It is that trait that Bleacher Report highlighted in its pitch for the Vikings to acquire the 11-year NFL veteran.
“While the Vikings do have good run defenders on the interior of their defensive line, they’re lacking someone who can put pressure on the quarterback,” the Bleacher Report article stated. “Hicks might be past his prime, but he could serve a rotational role by taking some of the pressure off Harrison Phillips, Jonathan Bullard and Dean Lowry on third downs with his 41.5 career sacks.”
Tough Schedule Puts Vikings in Precarious Position After Week 1 Loss
GettyDefensive end Akiem Hicks, formerly of the Chicago Bears, pursues quarterback Aaron Rodgers, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, during an NFL game.
Hicks will turn 34 years old in November and may or may not prove to be a starting-caliber player on whatever roster with which he signs. The defensive end was a starter last year with Tampa Bay, though his career has been frequently interrupted by injury of late.
Hicks missed six games for the Bucs in 2022 and eight games during his final campaign in Chicago the year before. He also sat out 11 contests in 2019 due to injury.
The Bucs signed Hicks to a one-year, $8 million deal in May 2022, though a dip in production and another year off the calendar should push his price down this time around. Hicks may take a similar route to the one pursued by former Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh, who pushed for a $9 million deal in free agency last summer.
No team was willing to pay Suh his asking price, and so he remained a free agent until later in the season before ultimately signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Staying put on the market for a few more weeks will hurt Hicks’ earning power, simply because when he does sign there will be fewer than 17 games on the schedule. That said, injuries and deficiencies on defenses hoping to contend in 2023 could create an urgency that leads to more money for Hicks than he could make otherwise.
The Vikings are far from desperate after starting the season 0-1, though the loss to Tampa Bay is troubling — especially considering the defense failed to stop the likes of Mayfield when it absolutely had to in big moments.
Minnesota had just shy of $4 million in salary cap space at its disposal as of Monday. The schedule won’t get any easier, with the likes of the Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs set as three of the Vikings’ next four opponents.
A road game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4 is the only contest in which Minnesota figures to be the odds-on favorite to win at kickoff. Because of that, the team may want to consider making a meaningful addition or two sooner than later, before what was expected to be a promising season comes off the rails.
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