Achilles injuries are not easy to recover from, especially for athletes 30 or older.
But it appears Chiefs veterans Derrick Johnson, 32, and Mike DeVito, 30, are pushing each other to do just that.
“They are proud warriors, and those are the types of guys you want in your locker room, guys that are competing on a daily basis to show each other ‘You know what? We’re going for it,’” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. “And that benefits not only themselves, but the organization and everybody within the Kansas City Chiefs family.”
DeVito, a defensive end, and Johnson, an inside linebacker, both tore Achilles tendons in the Chiefs’ season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans last September. The Chiefs’ run defense suffered, dropping from 11th in 2013 to 28th last season.
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DeVito’s Pro Football Focus run defense grade of plus-16.4 in 2013 ranked fourth among 45 qualifying 3-4 defensive ends, while Johnson’s run defense grade of plus-1.3 ranked 18th among 55 qualifying 3-4 inside linebackers.
That means it’s practically a certainty that their return will help the Chiefs’ defense, even if neither returns to be the same player they were before, which is always a risk with this specific injury.
“I think it’s varied, I think’s a case-by-case situation,” Dorsey said. “I think there are some guys that have totally come back from it and excelled, and then I’ve seen other guys regress.”
Both players have a year remaining on their contracts. DeVito had a cap number of $5.4 million. He agreed to a pay cut that dropped his base salary to $2.9 million and created cap room for the Chiefs, though he can make it back with reachable incentives.
The Chiefs also agreed to a restructured contract with another expensive veteran entering the last year of his deal, outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
Team chairman Clark Hunt was happy to see DeVito and Hali return.
“Specifically Mike DeVito and Tamba Hali, their desire to be in Kansas City was something (we) were really excited about,” Hunt said. “That was a decision they made, and they worked with John and the other folks that deal with our contracts to work out something that would work for both parties, and I’m just thrilled about that.”
Johnson has a cap number of $5.2 million. After a flurry of signings, cuts and restructured contracts, the Chiefs are around $2,845,675 under the cap, which is the second-smallest amount in the league. Only the New Orleans Saints, who have $764,806 in cap space, have less.
That means Chiefs still need to create additional cap space to sign their draft class, which typically takes between $5 million and $6 million.
The Chiefs could create $5.2 million in cap space by releasing Johnson, but Hunt said the club understands what it has in Johnson, who is only 14 tackles short of becoming the team’s all-time leader in that category.
“Derrick is obviously one of the greatest inside linebackers to ever play for the club and there are some pretty good ones, if you go back in time,” Hunt said. “In terms of the modern era of the Chiefs, it’s hard to think about the club without thinking about Derrick at inside linebacker. He’s a great leader, he’s a tremendous person, represents the club well on and off the field. We’re looking forward to having him back this year, hopefully good as new.
“You mentioned that his contract is up this year. There will be a point in time where we address that. But it just hasn’t been germane to this point.”
The Chiefs could create $3.8 million in cap space by cutting backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who has a $4.8 million cap number this year. But Daniel has proven to be reliable No. 2 quarterback in his limited playing time, and if the Chiefs are trying to win this year it would make sense to hold on to him, in case Smith gets hurt.
“Chase is a class guy and a true professional,” Hunt said.. Since before we acquired him, he was somebody that Andy was really excited about having in the quarterback room. And he goes out every day and competes — he pushes everybody, including Alex — to be better. He’s exactly the kind of guy you like to have as part of your football team.
“And the couple of chances he’s gotten the last couple of years to play, he’s played well. He should be 2-0. It didn’t work out that way, but he did enough for us to be 2-0 in those games, and that speaks volumes about him.”
Hunt was referencing the Chiefs’ 27-24 loss to the Chargers in 2013 regular-season finale, when Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a makeable field goal that could have won the game.
Daniel guided the Chiefs to a 19-7 win over the Chargers in the regular-season finale in 2014.
The Chiefs can also create cap space by converting quarterback Alex Smith’s $10.9 million salary into a bonus, which will create upwards of $8.2 million in cap room, or agree to a lower salary with safety Eric Berry, who is battling lymphoma and scheduled to have a 2015 cap number of $8.4 million.