Akiem Hicks was sitting at his locker, chatting with his teammates early Wednesday afternoon, as he does every day. Everything was normal. Some meetings, maybe a bite to eat, and suddenly he was a member of the New England Patriots.
Perhaps he should have seen it coming. During a Wednesday morning conference call, coach Sean Payton expressed a desire to acquire another tight end, and Payton accomplished that goal by shipping Hicks to New England for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
“You know, we’re still short at tight end, and that’s an area that concerns me,” Payton said. “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.”
The deal, which was confirmed to The Advocate by two league sources, solves Payton’s problem. Hoomanawanui joins Ben Watson and Josh Hill as the Saints’ third tight end.
While the price the Saints had to pay to address that need will likely leave some surprised, the perception is more shocking than the actual truth. Hicks put together a solid 2013 season, but he failed to have the same impact last season, and he’s been all but invisible through the first three weeks of his contract year.
Hicks told reporters that he was benched during a Week 2 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That wasn’t entirely true — he continued to play in the second half — but he did see a decreased role in that contest and against the Carolina Panthers. After playing 67 percent of the snaps in Week 1, he played a combined 42.4 percent of the snaps the next two games.
Hicks struggled to settle into a new role. New Orleans moved Hicks to five-technique defensive end this offseason, the spot Cam Jordan previously played before moving into Junior Galette’s old role. Too often, he was easily blocked out of plays. On one of his last plays as a regular against Tampa Bay, he was carried across the formation by a tackle, allowing a run to pass through his gap.
The former third-round pick had his best season in 2013, when he finished with 4.5 sacks. It created expectations heading into the 2014 season, when many expected him to provide interior pressure. The only issue is that he only had 15 other pressures during the 2013 season (734 snaps). Hicks finished with 20 pressures in 2014, but he only had two sacks (747).
With Hicks gone, undrafted free agent Bobby Richardson will likely take on a bigger role. The move could also force Jordan to playing some snaps in his old role as the Saints use Kasim Edebali or Obum Gwacham receiving more snaps at the Jack. In sub-packages, where Hicks occasionally played on the inside, it will likely lead to more snaps for Tavaris Barnes and Tyeler Davison.
Hoomanawanui, who spent the last three years in New England, had fallen down the depth chart with the Patriots. He was inactive for last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over those three years, Hoomanawanui logged 249 yards on 20 catches. He previously played for the St. Louis Rams, where he caught 13 passes for 146 yards in 2010.
It’s likely that he’ll serve as a depth player in New Orleans. He does possesses the ability to do a lot of different things. He can serve as both a blocking and move tight end, but is not a natural at either. While he’s not the fastest player, he possesses good hands and is a streaky blocker.
He’ll plug a need and give the Saints some security at the position. In return, New England gets a player with talent who was unable to deliver on it in New Orleans. It wouldn’t be surprising if his fire is lit in New England and he begins to cash in on his potential.
The issue is that it was becoming increasingly unlikely it would happen here.