The New England Patriots bolstered their already strong defensive line today when they traded tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. The move makes sense for both sides, as New Orleans was dangerously thin at tight end and the Pats could use another big body to help shore up their run defense. Both players seem to have been getting phased out of their respective schemes, so this seems to be a case of each team benefiting from the trade. In terms of pure talent, Hicks is probably the better player, but since the Saints are getting a blocking TE with good hands that they can use right away, it's not like anybody is getting hosed here.
So what are the Patriots getting? Firstly, they're getting a very, very large man; at 6'4", 325 pounds, Hicks can - and has - lined up all along the defensive line, and he's extremely good at getting a strong first push and collapsing the line. We'll be able to have some game film breakdown of Hicks shortly (paging Mr. Hill), but he has a strong first step and has the ability to overpower blockers to completely blow up the backfield.
Why are the Saints moving away from Hicks if he's a talent? They took him in the 3rd round of the 2012 Draft, 89th overall, which represented their first pick of that year. After a relatively quiet rookie season, Hicks had a breakout year on 2013, registering 56 total tackles and 4.5 sacks, which was good enough for third on the team. His 2013 campaign had him make Pro Football Focus's list of 2014 Secret Superstars, where they ranked him as the 15th overall rated DE in the league and touted him as a first round talent poised to rise to the next level in 2014. That didn't happen, however, and Hicks took a step back after his breakout season; he only registered 27 tackles in 2014, and just two sacks, and eventually worked himself out of the rotation. While he has played in all three games so far this year, he only has two tackles to his name, and the Saints seem to be moving on from him. He seemed to excel most as a 3-4 defensive end (albeit not exclusively), so it may very well be scheme-related. Sometimes good players are simply bad fits in certain defenses. It's also worth noting that Hicks didn't have a good season in 2014, so there's also a chance he just isn't the player he once was.
And how will the Patriots utilize him? In a Bill Belichick defense, nobody truly knows the answer to that question. Knowing Belichick, he'll start as a tight end when the Patriots travel to Dallas in Week 5. But more probable than not, Belichick will use Hicks on the early downs as a run stuffer and as a situational blitz lineman to eat up blocks while Jamie Collins does Jamie Collins things. Hicks could very well be this year's Akeem Ayers - I mean they basically have the same first name - and a player who rediscovers his mojo when he gets a change of scenery. If anyone can get Hicks back to his 2013 form, it's Belichick and Matt Patricia.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the newest Patriot, as well as all the other moves Belichick will be making this bye week as he cleans out teams already looking to rebuild for next year.