For the second time in his professional career, Akiem Hicks has joined a Tom Brady-led team. This time, it was voluntary.
Hicks made Florida the fourth stop in his decade-plus journey in the NFL when he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the first day of June. On Tuesday, he took to the practice field with his new teammates for the first time as the team opened a three-day minicamp. He didn't need an introduction to Brady; he played 13 games with former Patriots quarterback in New England in 2015. The first seven of those were victories.
Hicks landed with Brady's Patriots via a trade from his original team, the New Orleans Saints, three games into that 2015 campaign. Notably, his first three-plus seasons in the league were also spent alongside one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, Drew Brees. After his brief stay in Foxborough, Hicks signed with the Chicago Bears in 2016 and remained in the Windy City for six seasons. It's fair to say that he didn't encounter the same level of quarterback play in his third stop as in his first two.
It's also fair to say that Hicks is glad to be back on the same side as Brady.
"Something I've thought of often is that when I came into the league I had Drew Brees and Tom Brady as my first two quarterbacks," Hicks mused on Tuesday. "And then I went to Chicago – it wasn't Drew Brees and Tom Brady, let me say that, right? I feel spoiled to have somebody on the other side of the ball that can deliver all the time, and he's proven it over the years."
The Buccaneers have certainly experienced that effect. They were 7-9 in 2019, their 12th straight season that ended shy of the postseason. Brady signed with the Buccaneers in 2020 and they have since won 29 of 39 games, a Super Bowl championship and, separately, their first division title since 2007. The soon-to-be 45-year-old Brady briefly flirted with retirement after the Bucs' 2021 playoff run ended but chose in March to return for at least the 2022 season. That had a noticeable affect on Tampa Bay's ability to retain several of their free agents, and it definitely played a part in Hicks joining forces with a Bucs team that has more Super Bowl aspirations. Hicks, who became a free agent in March, had conversations with several potential suitors around the NFL but chose Tampa for the bottom line…in the standings, that is.
"One of the biggest things bringing me to Tampa is a chance to win," he said. "I would say that I'm happy to be here, happy to be back with Tom. I know in that quarterback position you've always got a chance to win a game with a guy like that. That was one of my reasons for being here; also, all the weapons that we have on defense.
"[Brady] was definitely a draw. I would say that it benefits a defense to have a quarterback that can control the clock, the ball and the field position, and that's what we have here."
Hicks made the playoffs in 2013 with the Saints, in his lone campaign as a Patriot and in two of the past four years in Chicago but has yet to play on the league's biggest stage. The 2015 Patriots did make the AFC Championship Game but that was the only season in a stretch of five years (2014-18) that New England did not advance to the Super Bowl. There is no guarantee, of course, that the Buccaneers will make it back to the championship game in 2022 but with Brady in the fold they will certainly be considered a prime contender. At the very least, Hicks believes he's joining a team that knows how to win.
"I'll give you a tidbit that I got from today during practice on this field over here," said Hicks after his first Bucs practice. "I heard guys on the defense chirping [at] guys on the defense and trying to make them play better, to motivate them. And I think that's a winning culture. When you look around and somebody's kind of chastising you or criticizing what you've done, and you're able to receive that and try to be better, I think that's winning culture and I saw some of that today."
Hicks essentially replaces Ndamukong Suh in the Bucs' defensive line meeting room, and he and rookie Logan Hall will likely soak up the roughly 1,100 defensive snaps that Suh and Steve McLendon provided last year. Hicks said he has never been concerned about specific snap counts and he doesn't yet know exactly how he fits in the Bucs' defensive scheme. He's not aiming to be another Suh, but the Bucs know that Hicks was often dominant himself during his six years in Chicago.
"I'm just going to be myself, play hard, play strong," said Hicks. "That's one of my talents, being able to push the pocket, work a move, get some pass rush going, play stout against the run. I'm just going to be me."
And, hopefully, he's going to enjoy the winning that he anticipated when choosing to come to Tampa.
"I'm still getting to know people, I'm still learning my way," said Hicks. "I didn't know how to get around the building this morning. It's a process, right, and a transition for me. I think that having conversations on the phone with [Todd] Bowles and having conversations with other guys in the building, I think [they are] good people, guys who know how to win, and that's what I want to be around."