The Chiefs and safety Eric Berry failed to agree on a long-term deal before the 3 p.m. deadline on Friday, as previously reported by The Star.
In the absence of a new deal, it appears the 27-year-old Berry will be forced to play the 2016 season under the one-year, $10.8 million franchise tag.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a long-term agreement with Eric’s representatives before today’s deadline,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. “Although both sides would have preferred a different outcome, Eric is a true professional and a tremendous football player. We know that he will continue to be a leader in our locker room and we look forward to resuming our discussions on a long-term agreement when the negotiating window reopens after the season.”
It appears that a deal was never particularly close, as a source told The Star that the two sides never agreed on a single component of a deal.
A source also confirmed that during those negotiations, the Chiefs asked Berry to pay for a disability insurance policy that would have named the team as a beneficiary. This isn’t unprecedented — a handful of players, like Colin Kaepernick and Joe Staley, have similar agreements — but it isn’t necessarily common, either.
Rand Getlin of the NFL Network reported the policy, which was worth roughly $20 million, included a $2 million premium that Berry was expected to pay. Berry balked, and the team withdrew that request, a source confirmed.
In the absence of a new deal, Berry — who skipped the entirety of organized team activities and offseason workouts — still has the option of holding off on signing the one-year tender, which would allow him to show his displeasure by missing a significant portion of training camp. Should he choose to do that, Berry could sign the tender and return to the team shortly before the regular season and still collect his full $10.8 million salary.
Regardless, the Chiefs’ inability to get an extension done with Berry is a bit of a surprise, considering both sides indicated a desire to reach a deal multiple times this offseason. Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said as much at the Super Bowl in February and the annual meeting in March.
“Well, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get a long-term deal with him done here in the next several months,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told The Star in March. “He’s certainly somebody that we would like to be a Chief for a very, very long time.”
Berry made his desire to be a Chief for the long-term clear at the 101 awards in March, and reiterated that sentiment at his annual K.C.-area youth football camp on July 8, when he also admitted his surprise at the lack of progress made .
“Obviously I’d love to be a Chief — I want to be a Chief long term, just because of the community, the staff, from top to bottom, the players and everything,” Berry said at his camp. “But sometimes things don’t go as planned, and I’m prepared for that, but hopefully it goes as planned, and I’m prepared for that, as well.”
While Berry will now be tasked with figuring out when he will report to the Chiefs — camp begins on July 29 for veterans — the Chiefs are tasked with carving out some cap room to operate comfortably this season.
The cash-strapped Chiefs — who currently have a league-low $226,818 in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association — would have stood to create a minimum of $3 million or so in cap room this year with a Berry extension.
That would have been the case even if they managed to ink Berry to an extension that would have made him the game’s highest-paid safety, a title currently held by Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, who has two fewer All-Pro selections (two) and three fewer Pro Bowl selections (four) than Berry. Smith recently signed a five-year, $51.25 million pact that includes nearly $29 million guaranteed.
The Chiefs could create $10.8 million in cap room by rescinding the tender on Berry, but that would make one of their best, and most influential, players an unrestricted free agent. Considering the Chiefs’ goals this year — they are looking to make the Super Bowl after finally ending their 22-year drought without a playoff win in January — that doesn’t seem like a great option.
As for Berry, he will earn a nice-sized guaranteed salary this season, though he stood to earn more guaranteed money with an extension and won’t have the long-term security he craves.
Berry is also slated to hit the free-agent market next offseason, when he can be franchised again for approximately $12.9 million. However, the team already has a significant amount of money committed to 2017 — upwards of $166 million, which already surpasses the 2016 cap number of $155 million — and also has another big name slated to hit the market in two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe.
In 2015, Berry served as the emotional leader of a team that rallied from a 1-5 start to win 11 straight games. He also recorded 61 tackles, 10 pass deflections and two interceptions and earned a number of honors, including his fourth Pro Bowl nod, his second all-pro nod and the NFL’s comeback player of the year award.
On Wednesday, Berry accepted the ESPY award Wednesday for Best Comeback Player.