Chiefs safety Eric Berry turned 26 years old on Monday, and general manager John Dorsey was just one member of the organization amongst many to reach out.
“I texted him happy birthday,” Dorsey said. “I love the kid.”
If the Chiefs organization made one thing clear over the past two months, it’s that Berry is loved.
The sheer number of teammates who wore the “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Berry” T-shirts proved it, and so did personal gestures like the ones put forth by outside linebacker Justin Houston, who even traveled to Georgia to see his lymphoma-stricken teammate on off days at least twice since Berry’s original diagnosis.
Yet the National Football League is a business. It’s always been that way, and it will always be that way, so with that said, it’s hard not to wonder if there will come a time this year where the Chiefs will have to sort out the business part of the situation as it relates to Berry.
It’s not fun to think about, and it’s certainly not the most important question surrounding the fifth-year pro’s future, obviously. But even Dorsey knows it can’t be avoided.
“That part will come eventually,” Dorsey said. “What I am worried about is Eric. I care about his health, his person, his well-being.”
Here’s the thing: Berry is scheduled to have a cap number of $8.357 million in 2015, and is slated to receive $5.455 million in total salary.
According to cap expert and former agent Joel Corry, if Berry again winds up on the non-football injury list in 2015, the Chiefs — whom Corry tentatively projects to have only $400,000 in cap space this offseason based on a conservative, league-wide 2015 team cap number of $142 million — would technically be under no obligation to pay him.
“They could conceivably pick up $5.5 million of cap space by not paying him in the year, or they could just flat out cut him,” Corry said. “It’s the harsh reality of the football business … but neither one of those would go over great from a PR standpoint.”
In addition to the negative PR they would get for choosing the cap room over Berry, there’s also the matter of what Berry would think of such a decision.
“The client is going to be upset about that, because it’s not like Eric Berry has done anything risky or hazardous,” Corry said. “It’s not like he was in the offseason playing basketball and wound up tearing an ACL. This is something beyond his control.”
To be clear, however, there’s been no indication about where the Chiefs stand, one way or the other, though Corry said it’s certainly worth noting that the team has opted to pay Berry anyway over the last six weeks, a period of time he’s spent on the non-football injury list.
Berry is a beloved teammate, and the Chiefs speak a lot about being a family — a banner that says “Come in as teammates, leave as family” hangs outside the locker room.
However, the Chiefs aren’t the only team that has been put in this position. 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.
So, Corry said, a mutually-agreed upon lower salary could be another option for the Chiefs. Current Chiefs coach Andy Reid was running the show in Philadelphia at the time of the Patterson decision, but Reid said he wouldn’t be involved in the process this time — if it even comes to that.
“I was involved with that with Mike …. those are two different situations,” Reid said. “I’m not involved in that part of this. I haven’t even gone there, to be honest.”
It would seem, then, that the decision will ultimately fall on Dorsey and his staff. But when asked Monday what the Chiefs plan on doing, Dorsey made it clear the organization is still formulating its offseason plan.
“Give us some time to sit down, sit and see all of the different pieces here before we can move forward here,” Dorsey said.
Reid has spoken to Berry recently — after Sunday’s game, as a matter of fact — a reminder that while business always beckons in football, the important thing in this case is Berry’s health as his recovery.
“I wanted to make sure he saw that helicopter with his name and number on it, flying over it,” Reid said. “I thought that was pretty neat, tribute to our armed forces for doing that.”
“That’s what I am focusing on as we move forward here,” Dorsey said of supporting Berry. “Time will take care of the other part.”