Chief Debate: Eric Hicks

Some might be surprised by this column. In my first two articles I made a case for trading Jared Allen and moving on without Greg Wesley. In this edition of Chief Debate I make a case for keeping one of the classiest players to ever put on a Chiefs uniform.

I'll say this right off the bat - I'm an Eric Hicks fan. He stands up to the media, stands up for his teammates and - despite the fact his productivity has slowed to a crawl - never gives up on a play.

Those are the attributes of a Herm Edwards player.

Hicks is a self-made player. He came into the big show without any guarantees as an un-drafted free agent. He was not a highly regarded player coming out of Maryland back in 1988. He had a few good season, while others weren't as productive.

But Hicks is a survivor and a fighter, and considering the tutoring he received from the late Derrick Thomas early in his career, there is little wonder why he's been with the Chiefs for nine seasons.

Hicks is one of many Chiefs players who have been productive at the NFL level after being bypassed in the draft. He came to training camp with a purpose as a rookie, and former head coach Marty Schottenheimer took notice. He came to the Chiefs at a time when they needed someone to step up and play strong opposite Thomas. Early in his career Hicks was a terror, and made things much easier on this franchise after the decision to jettison Neil Smith.

After three years in the NFL Hicks was in a position to become an All-Pro. Unfortunately, after leading the team with 14 sacks through 13 games in 2000, a knee injury ended his season.

Since then his career has been only average. In 2002 he managed nine sacks, but only 14 over the last four seasons. Rookie Tamba Hali replaced Hicks last year and he didn't record a single sack.

But he never complained about taking a backup role to an unproven rookie. When called upon he put his beaten and battered body in front of mammoth offensive tackles without hesitation.

Though he had only two tackles last year, Hicks did well in spelling Hali from time to time. But he was dinged up last season, as age and NFL scars have taken their toll.

But despite all that, the Chiefs should hold onto Hicks for at least one more year. Obviously his salary is a bit high, as he's expected to earn $2.9 million this year, and the Chiefs know that's far too expensive for a backup, but he adds volume and substance to this football team.

He's a leader in the locker room and there is something to be said for keeping around a guy who works as hard as Hicks and who is self-motivated. He's also a leader in the community and that alone makes him a Pro-Bowl person.

Hicks is slowing down, is still susceptible to the bootleg and probably won't have but a couple of sack opportunities next season. But with Jared Allen likely sitting out the first quarter of the season, retaining Hicks at a lower salary would be a win-win situation for the Chiefs.

I know the fans have been somewhat harsh on Hicks for his lack of playmaking ability in recent years, but he understands the word ‘team' better than most in the locker room.

Nobody will forget his tirade with local 610 Sports Reporter Rhonda Moss two seasons ago. It was a thing of beauty on Hicks' part, because he proudly defended his friends on his football team despite their problems as a unit.

That banter made national headlines from coast to coast. Though he lost his cool with the local reporter, he stood his ground and defended his teammates with vigor and honor.

Those types of players – let alone people – are hard to find in any NFL city. We can sit here and say all NFL players should act as Hicks does on and off the field, but in reality it doesn't happen enough.

Two years ago Hicks almost signed with the Arizona Cardinals but instead returned to Kansas City. He wanted to be one of the solutions to improving this team's fortunes on defense. He took ownership for its failures.

Though he may have not been part of the solution on the field last year, he still showed leadership qualities that set the tone for the new defensive attitude. The Chiefs improved dramatically on defense, sniffing the top 10.

Hicks might not get many snaps next season outside of filling in for Allen, but in a pinch he can still hold his ground.

But in reality, the NFL is a cutthroat league and Hicks has probably played his last down for the Chiefs. But I hope Edwards and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham fight hard to keep him for one more year.

If they do, I believe that Hicks has one more game-changing sack left in his NFL career. And who knows, that sack could come in a playoff game – one that gets the Chiefs their first post-season victory since 1993.

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