Clark Hunt has plenty of things going on in his life, including multiple businesses, money to juggle and a family of his own.
But he also has a football team to run, and when it comes to that team, the Chiefs’ chairman is as competitive as anyone. In fact, if you start talking about the Chiefs with him, it does not take long to see that he is plugged into the day-to-day happenings of his team.
So with that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Hunt was abreast of the latest on Eric Berry and his battle against Hodgkin lymphoma, which accounts for about 10 percent of lymphoma cases and is considered to be highly curable.
“He’s doing well in that treatment process, but that’s a tough process to go through,” said Hunt, who visited Berry in Atlanta in January and gets regular updates on his status.
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey — who traveled to Atlanta to see Berry with Hunt — and coach Andy Reid, who were also asked about Berry at the NFL’s annual meetings this week, gave similar updates on Berry’s status.
“I haven’t talked to him in person one-on-one, but I’ve been communicating with him with texts,” Dorsey said. “Very positive (response).”
“He’s doing well,” said Reid, who said he last spoke to Berry a week before he arrived for the meetings. “(He’s) positive and upbeat.”
Still, this is the NFL, and there will come a time this year where the Chiefs will have to sort out the business part of Berry’s situation. Berry, who only has one year left on his deal, is scheduled to have a cap number of $8.4 million in 2015, and is slated to receive $5.5 million in total salary.
The problem is, per NFL rules, whatever they pay Berry will count against the cap, regardless of his current health status, and the Chiefs currently have only $2.8 million in cap room — the second-least amount in the league, according to NFL Players Association records — and still need to create upward of $6 million in space to sign their 10 draft picks in May.
The Chiefs have plenty of options to get there. They can theoretically cut or restructure high-priced veterans like inside linebacker Derrick Johnson ($5.2 million cap number) and quarterback Chase Daniel ($4.8 million), or they can convert quarterback Alex Smith’s $10.9 million salary into a bonus, which will create upwards of $8.2 million in cap room.
However, according to cap expert and former agent Joel Corry, if Berry again winds up on the non-football injury list in 2015 — which he spent the last month of the season on in 2014 — the Chiefs would be under no obligation to pay him his base salary, and would thus stand to gain $5.5 million in cap space.
But when asked about that possibility this week, Hunt reiterated what Dorsey said two months ago and has remained the team’s stance ever since — that the team is more concerned that Berry, the person, returns to full health than Berry, the football player, returns to his day job quickly.
“Our focus is about him and his health,” Hunt said. “When we get to the point where we can think about his football career, we’ll do that. We hope that’s sooner rather than later, but we’re going to be as patient as we need to be.”
Some things are bigger than football, Hunt added, and for what it’s worth, the Chiefs opted to pay Berry over the last six weeks of 2014, even though he spent that time on the non-football injury list.
The Chiefs aren’t the only team that has been put in this position, by the way. In September 2012, Philadelphia defensive tackle Mike Patterson had brain surgery, and they negotiated a lower salary from $2.1 million to $1.05 million.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was in charge of personnel in Philadelphia when the Patterson situation happened, so it stands to reason that a negotiated lower salary would be considered in this instance, too.
But if it is, the Chiefs aren’t revealing their hand, instead preferring to keep the focus on where it needs to be — which is on the wholesale support of a 26-year-old engaged in a battle much, much bigger than the sport of football.
“It’s one of those bridges that you cross when you get there,” Hunt said of the business end of the situation. “But certainly we respect Eric a great amount as a person and a player and appreciate what he’s done for the Chiefs. We hope that he plays for the Chiefs for a very long time.”