The teardown of the Chiefs defense as we knew it continues. Just as the new league year officially began on Wednesday, Kansas City announced that the would Release Eric Berry.
A Free Safety
This is definitely sad to see, just like the Justin Houston release. Berry’s leadership and toughness he displayed was unlike any other. But, it is, after all, a business. And now, the Chiefs finally decided this was the best decision for the future of the team.
The Chiefs drafted Berry in the first round, fifth overall, during the 2010 draft. From the beginning, it was clear that he had what it took to be a do-it-all safety. Berry’s production from his rookie year through 2013 was consistent. He made every tackle and grew as a leader when the team was transitioning to Andy Reid’s scheme in 2013. In spite of a torn ACL sidelining him in 2011, Berry became a top safety in the NFL.
Suddenly, in the middle of the 2014 season, Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a game against the Raiders. Berry fought hard to beat it, and I remember how much we continued to see him working out during the battle. His relentless in this battle defined his character as a fighter. Thankfully nine months later, Berry was declared cancer free.
The Chiefs gradually brought Berry back leading into the 2015 season. For the home opener, Berry was the last one to be announced from the tunnel and ran out to loud cheers. His production was close to being back where it was in 2013, and his comeback was capped off by the Chiefs winning their first playoff game in 22 years in the Wild Card round at the Texans. Berry had an interception in that game, and a few weeks later he gave an emotional speech while receiving the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
In 2016, he had another terrific season of tackling production and played in all 16 games. He tied his career high in interceptions that year, including two pick-sixes that helped lead the Chiefs to victories.
A victory better than any other for Berry that year probably had to be in Atlanta. Berry returned to his hometown, where he had received his cancer treatment, and with his parents in the crowd had one of those pick sixes. An even bigger moment in the game was after the Falcons scored a touchdown, and Atlanta was trying to add a two-point conversion to increase their lead to three. Berry was not going to let that happen, as he picked off the pass on the two-point attempt and raced all by himself for a two-point return the other way. With that two-point return score, the Chiefs would eke out a 29-28 win in Atlanta.
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Shortly after the 2016 season, the Chiefs rewarded Berry with a 6 year, $78 million contract. Unfortunately, Berry suffered a string of injuries that led to this release. He suffered a torn Achilles in the first game after signing that lucrative deal in 2017. Going into 2018, Berry was looking good in training camp. Then, he started feeling heel discomfort. This kept him out for the first fourteen games of the year, with what was described as a Haglund’s deformity. The pain threshold is too great for most to play through. Berry did see minimal action late in the season, but he did not have the ability to become what he was before.
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He finishes his career in KC with 445 tackles, 50 pass breakups, 14 interceptions and 5 touchdowns in 88 games played. Berry was also a Pro Bowler five times, and a First Team All-Pro three times. He’s a cancer survivor and a fighter.
As far as the salary cap and contract situation goes with this, had Berry been on the Chiefs roster Friday (March 15th), $7.25 million of his salary would have become fully guaranteed. Kansas City has released him as a post-June 1st designation. This means the Chiefs will save roughly $9.5 million in cap space this year and $5.5 million next year. He will count for $6.95 million toward this year’s cap space and $8 million next year.
Once again, it’s a business decision and seeing Berry go is tough for Chiefs fans and their players. But if it wasn’t clear before, this release definitely tells us that the Chiefs are trying to completely rebuild their defense. Gone is Berry, Houston, Dee Ford, Steven Nelson. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his staff are getting the guys they want while the Chiefs are in a championship window. They have already signed Tyrann Mathieu and Damien Wilson, what’s to follow?
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