Despite signing Eric Berry to a long-term contract this week, the Chiefs did not use their available franchise tag on nose tackle Dontari Poe before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
But apparently that doesn’t mean the Chiefs don’t want Poe, a 26-year-old stalwart of their interior defensive line, to return. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said general manager John Dorsey will continue to work with Poe’s representatives on a contract agreement before he becomes a free agent March 9.
“Dorse has been in communication with his people,” Reid said. “He knows that we love him — he’s a great kid and we’d love to have him back.”
Poe played under a $6.1 million cap number in 2016 — the fifth and final year of his rookie contract — but figured to earn a raise in 2017, either in free agency or under a one-year franchise tender of about $13 million.
But after Berry signed a massive six-year, $78 million extension on Tuesday, Reid said a salary cap crunch played a role in the decision not to tag Poe. A source told The Star on Wednesday that new contracts for Berry guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif added approximately $5.86 million to the Chiefs’ cap total in 2017, leaving them with approximately $3.73 million in cap space.
“You probably have to look at what’s left over — that’s the thing,” Reid said. “I think we’d all love to have him there; that’s not an issue at all. But that was a pretty substantial deal we went through with Eric.”
If the Chiefs gave Poe the franchise tag, his salary-cap number would have been about $13 million, but a long-term contract agreement could result in a lower first-year cap number. Berry’s 2017 cap number is $5 million under his new contract.
If the Chiefs can’t reach a deal with Poe, he should have his share of suitors on the open market. He recorded 27 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 2016 and also rushed for and threw for a touchdown on gimmick plays: “Hungry Pig Right” and “Tebow Pop Pass.” He’s a two-time Pro Bowler who has led the Chiefs’ defensive linemen in snaps every year since he was selected 11th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Poe’s most productive seasons with the Chiefs came in 2014 (45 tackles, six sacks and eight hurries in 944 snaps) and 2013 (51 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and seven hurries in 975 snaps). He made the Pro Bowl each season.
He had back surgery to repair a herniated disk in the summer of 2015. Poe, 6 feet 3 and 346 pounds, only missed one game that year, recording 39 tackles, a sack and three hurries in 15 games, but his snap count dropped to 759.
In 2016, Poe didn’t miss a game, however, as he recorded a career-high nine pressures in 885 snaps, 16th-most among all NFL defensive linemen.
If Poe does not return, the Chiefs currently have plenty of young, experienced depth under contract for 2017.
Defensive linemen Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard are each coming off season-ending injuries but are multi-year starters, while second-round rookie Chris Jones finished second on the team in snaps but was first among all Chiefs defensive linemen with 28 tackles, 10 hurries and four passes defensed.
Second-year pro Rakeem Nunez-Roches also thrived with more playing time, as he took advantage of Howard and Bailey’s injuries and posted career-highs with 23 tackles and three hurries.