Economics, eye on future key factors in Patriots' decision with Akiem Hicks

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Chicago Bears announced that defensive tackle Akiem Hicks signed a two-year deal on Sunday night, which was a result the New England Patriots seemed to be preparing for as free agency opened.

Hicks played well for the Patriots in a top backup role after being acquired in a trade for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on Oct. 1, and he was rated as the team's No. 1 free agent. Losing him weakens the defensive line, and in the end, this looks like a pure economic decision by the Patriots.

It all seems to come back to having a core of defenders with contracts expiring after the 2016 season -- linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins; defensive ends Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard; cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, among others -- and how the team seems to be hesitant to make too many major long-term commitments that might affect their ability to re-sign some in that group.

That helps explain why defensive tackle Frank Kearse was one of the team's initial free-agent signings this offseason. He is on a much lower pay scale, but the club obviously thinks he can help fill some of the void created by Hicks' departure. In a draft that is also considered strong at defensive tackle, perhaps the Patriots find some reinforcements there as well.

There is also a bit of future planning involved, as Hicks' signing in Chicago could help the Patriots land a 2017 compensatory draft choice (depending on the financial terms of the pact, and any other signings New England might make). In 2017, compensatory picks can be traded for the first time and that could have some value to New England.