It was hardly considered a surprise, but the 2 p.m. deadline for Chiefs veterans to report to training camp Friday came and went with no sign of safety Eric Berry.
Berry, who turns 28 in December, is expected to miss most, if not all, of the preseason in the wake of the Chiefs’ inability to sign him to a long-term contract this summer.
Because of the league’s rules regarding franchise players, Berry — who the Chiefs tagged as a nonexclusive franchise player earlier this offseason — cannot be fined for missing training camp days because he is not under contract.
When he wants to play this year, he’ll have to sign the franchise tender for $10.8 million and report; but technically, he could wait out the preseason, sign the tender right before the season and still collect his full $10.8 million salary. That has been a popular route for franchise players to take.
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And his teammates, who filed into Scanlon Hall on the campus of Missouri Western on Friday, seem to understand that business is business and harbored no hard feelings.
“He’s a leader,” running back Charcandrick West said. “I mean, Eric is going to lead, to matter where he’s at. We know what he expects of us. He’s here with us at heart.”
Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif also spoke highly of Berry’s importance, noting that his inspirational comeback from lymphoma gave him a voice that will be missed.
“The way he fought through things outside of football … when he says something, it means a lot,” Duvernay-Tardif said.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith even went as far as to call Berry the “heart and soul” of the team.
“He’s so amazing and one of our main leaders in the locker room, on the field, and I can’t put into words how much he does for this team,” Smith said.
It’s hard to imagine Berry, a seven-year pro, wanting to sweat out another one of Andy Reid’s physical training camps in the sweltering heat of St. Joseph. But Smith is confident Berry — who has always maintained his body — will be physically and emotionally ready when he does return.
“I’ve been around long enough … over the years, stuff happens, and this will all get worked out in time,” Smith said. “When it does, he’ll be ready. It’s the type of player and teammate he is. He’ll be accountable to his teammates. I’ve never dealt with it. I don’t know the details or the intricacies with it. Hopefully it’ll get done sooner than later.”
Until Berry decides to return, though, the Chiefs will continue to prepare. Berry skipped organized team activities as well, and Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Stevie Brown were the Chiefs’ top safeties.
The culture of the NFL is all about a “next man up” mentality, and that won’t change, no matter how important or inspirational the player.
“We’re definitely going to work,” said receiver Albert Wilson, who added that he’s been looking up to Berry ever since he arrived in the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014. “This is the time people get hurt, so the people who have the chance to step up, I’m pretty sure they’re going to step up. So if he’s here or not, we’re definitely going to get some work in.”