NFL buzzards seemed to be circling Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks after rumors about the possible Russell Wilson trade surfaced.
When Seattle coach Pete Carroll dashed a trade, the Bears needed to get below the cap and speculation centered around losing Hicks or cornerback Kyle Fuller, or both.
Three seasons earlier the Bears would never have considered losing either, but it wound up being Fuller going at age 29.
The decision between a former All-Pro cornerback or a dominant 31-year-old defensive line force can be debated for the next decade but the Bears did bring Hicks back for at least one more season.
"He's a big bully out there," new Bears defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. "He's a guy out there that's like a big brother out there, that once he's on the field with you, you sort of feel protected because big brother has your back.
"But he's a guy that's going to have to continue to get better, fundamentally, technique-wise."
Hicks' contract expires after this year but don't count on his retirement any time soon.
The 6-foot-4, 352-pound end still is ranked 15th on this year's Pro Football Focus list of the top 32 interior defensive linemen, even after what some might consider a down year. His age doesn't seem quite so large of a problem when defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, at 34, was leading the Tampa Bay defensive front to the Lombardi Trophy.
Suh hadn't made more than last year's six sacks since 2014, at age 28, but his most impressive stat was the 74% of defensive snaps played. It's down from when he was on the field for 88% a few years ago, but still plenty for someone at his age playing almost any position.
Hicks played 74% of snaps last year at almost 40 pounds heavier than Suh.
Hicks started last season like he had stepped through a time tunnel to 2018. He had 3 1/2 sacks in the first three games. Though Hicks made no more sacks, he put up 29 total pressures, equaling the total he made in 2018.
What Hicks also did was commit more penalties than any other Bears player. He had 10 penalties, seven resulting in first downs. He committed more penalties than during his previous three years in Chicago combined.
Considering Fuller was second with seven penalties, tied with Charles Leno Jr., and Buster Skrine was right behind them with six, it's easy to see being penalized extensively is considered a problem by the coaching staff and GM Ryan Pace. Of that group Hicks is the only one still in Chicago, and then only after it seemed he'd be gone.
Hicks' 2021 season no doubt can be better with the return of Eddie Goldman to the lineup at nose tackle.
When Hicks and Goldman have been together since 2018, the Bears limited opposing running attacks to just under 79 yards a game but they've given up 40 yards more when one of the two or both have been off the field.
Even bullies and big brothers can use some help. With it, Hicks could very easily return to the player who finished those pass rushes with sacks, and it's possible his penalty issues could be a thing of the past.
Akiem Hicks at a glance
Career: 10th season, 362 tackles, 68 for loss, 37 sacks, 102 quarterback hits, 6 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries.
2020: 15 games, 49 tackles, seven for loss, 3.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, 1 fumble recovery.
The number: 16. According to Sportradar, Hicks had 16 plays when he knocked the quarterback to the ground. That total was more than his previous two seasons combined.
2021 projection: 54 tackles, 10 for loss, five sacks, 19 quarterback hits, 1 forced fumble.