Safety Eric Berry's speech after winning co-Chiefs MVP
If recent history is any indication, the Chiefs’ decision to place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Eric Berry on March 1 essentially guaranteed Berry will be with the club in 2016.
After all, while teams are free to negotiate with Berry — and even sign him to a contract — the tender guarantees the Chiefs the right to match any offer, and receive two first-round picks as compensation if they decline to do so.
That’s a hefty price tag, one that has overwhelmingly scared off teams from making offers to even the most coveted of free agents over the last several years. Remember last year, when Justin Houston was only 26 years old and coming off a historic 22-sack campaign? He was given the non-exclusive franchise tender too, and even he wasn’t signed to an offer sheet by another team.
Houston, of course, went on to sign a massive six-year, $101 million extension with the Chiefs, just hours before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign new deals. And by all accounts, if the Chiefs — and Berry, for that matter — have their way, Berry’s situation will be resolved in a similar manner before the deadline, which is again on July 15.
“Well, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get a long-term deal with him done here in the next several months,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said at the NFL’s annual meeting. “He’s certainly somebody that we would like to be a Chief for a very, very long time.”
What’s more, Hunt said he gets the sense Berry, who turns 28 in December, wants to be a Chief for a long time, too.
“In my conversations with him, I have the sense that he also likes the organization and believes in the direction that we’re going, and would like to be a part of the program for the foreseeable future,” Hunt said.
Berry said as much himself at the 101 Awards earlier this month. When asked if he wants to be a Chief for the foreseeable future, he grinned.
“Definitely, definitely,” Berry said with emphasis. “I want to be here long-term. Definitely.”
It was the first time Berry said such a thing that directly, at least publicly. At the Super Bowl, he expressed fondness for the team and city, but noted that he would leave his contract situation in his agent’s hands.
But that was before he was slapped with the franchise tender, which currently counts for $10.8 million against the cap but could easily be sliced by at least half in 2016 with a new deal, which is another reason the Chiefs — who currently have about $5.7 million in cap space and will need roughly half that to sign their draft picks — could be encouraged to get a deal done.
“Yeah, (general manager) John Dorsey has been in contact with his agent going back several months,” Hunt said. “The franchise tag is just a part of the process to hopefully getting a long-term deal done here in the near future.”
But for all the well-intentioned optimism, Berry has not signed his franchise tender yet, and it remains unclear when he will do so. By signing the one-year franchise tender, he would be under contract and be required to attend organized-team activities and the Chiefs’ offseason program when they begin in April.
But by holding off, Berry can also skip training camp and the preseason, return shortly before the regular season and command his full franchise salary.
The Chiefs also have the option of rescinding the tender on Berry, but that would make him an unrestricted free agent.
“I’m just focused now on training and being ready to go whenever that is,” Berry said, when asked when he plans to sign the tender.
Berry served as the emotional leader of the 2015 Chiefs, fast-tracking his way back from a December 2014 diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma to return in time for the start of training camp.
He looked quicker and faster than in previous seasons — he was back to playing at his college weight of 210 pounds — as he racked up 61 tackles, 10 pass deflections and two interceptions as he made the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.
Berry, a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 2010, is considered a core part of the franchise. When asked at the annual meeting about the importance of re-signing team icons like Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali, Hunt lumped Berry with them.
“As a fan I’m always excited when we can keep players who have been as important for the Kansas City Chiefs as all three of those players have been,” Hunt said. “Not only on the field, but off the field.”