CHICAGO – When they were the best defense in the National Football League, he was one of the biggest reasons why.

Akiem Hicks was arguably the best free agent signing in the Ryan Pace era of the Bears as his play on the defensive line aided the team’s strong run on that side of the ball at the end of last decade.

But with a new regime in place at Halas Hall and after dealing with injuries two of the last three years, Hicks will be starting a new chapter of his career in 2022.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the defensive end is signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Buccaneers. The team has yet to confirm the move.

Tampa Bay will be the fourth stop in Hicks’ career as he arrived with the Bears in 2016 after spending time with the Saints (2012-2015) and Patriots (13 games in 2015). The defensive end played six years with the Bears, finishing with 31 sacks, 51 tackles for loss, 88 quarterback hits, and five forced fumbles.

Hicks’ strongest play came in his first three seasons as the Bears’ defense grew into the best in the entire NFL. He had seven sacks in 2016, 8 1/2 in 2017, then 7 1/2 in 2018 as he was named to the Pro Bowl in that last season.

During that campaign, the Vic Fangio-led unit was first in points allowed and turnovers while third in yardage, helping the Bears to a 12-4 record and an NFC North championship. Along with his sack total, Hicks had 12 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles.

An elbow injury suffered in the Bears’ loss to the Raiders in London limited Hicks to just five games in the 2019 season as the Bears slipped to 8-8. The defensive end would end up playing in 15 games in 2020 with a career-high 21 quarterback hits with 3 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

This past season, Hicks was limited to nine games by injuries and one positive COVID-19 test late in the season. He finished with 3 1/2 sacks and nine quarterback hits.