Why the Kansas City Chiefs Must Extend Eric Berry This Offseason

BJ KisselContributor IFebruary 18, 2014

December 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates after an interception against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs are having cap troubles right now. 

Basically, they're broke. 

According to Spotrac.com, the Chiefs currently sit with just over $3 million available in cap space based on the 2014 contracts on the books. That's not including the rookies they'll have to sign after the upcoming draft. 

In order for the Chiefs to make any moves in free agency, even a small one, they'll need to free up some money first. 

Most people expect quarterback Alex Smith to get a contract extension this offseason. After helping lead the Chiefs to the playoffs in his first season, Smith will undoubtedly get the opportunity to stay in Kansas City for the next few years. 

Smith carries an $8 million cap hit in 2014 based his current deal, but that number could be much lower with an extension. The Chiefs could actually do more to build around Smith by signing him to an extension than they could by maintaining the status quo.

But Smith isn't the only player who makes sense for the Chiefs to extend this offseason.

The further you dive into details of why Eric Berry should be given an extension, the more it makes sense for both sides to come to an agreement. 


The Money

Berry carries a whopping $11.6 million cap hit in 2014. Thanks to the old CBA, Berry was immediately one of the highest paid safeties in the league before he ever played a down.

He was the No. 5 overall pick out of Tennessee back in 2010 and signed a six-year, $50 million deal which included $25.6 million dollars guaranteed. 

Eric Berry's rookie (current) contract
YearBase SalaryCap HitDead Money
2010$2.6 million$4.1 million$25.6 million
2011$450k$7.6 million$26.8 million
2012$4.8 million$8 million$22.5 million
2013$7 million$10.2 million$15 million
2014$8.4 million$11.6 million$5.8 million
2015$5.1 million$8.3 million$2.9 million

There are many ways to manipulate cap numbers but when you're up against it like the Chiefs are right now, things need to happen in order to make some room. 

An easy way to eliminate cap space is to cut players with high cap numbers. Easier said than done, especially for coaches who would seem to be motivated to keep the better players on their roster. That's also as long as the players don't carry a lot of dead money with them if they were to be cut. 

For example, cornerback Brandon Flowers has a $10.5 million cap hit in 2014, but he carries a $7 million hit in "dead money". Therefore, the Chiefs would only be saving $3.5 million off the cap in 2014 if they were to cut Flowers. 

Top 5 cap hits for Chiefs in 2014
PlayerCap hitDead money
Dwayne Bowe$12 million$16.2 million
Eric Berry$11.6 million$5.8 million
Tamba Hali$11.4 million$5.9 million
Brandon Flowers$10.5 million$7 million
Alex Smith$8 million0

Dwayne Bowe would actually cost more to cut than he does to keep because of the accelerated bonuses on Bowe's extension he signed just last season. 

It sounds wrong but one easy way to save money on the cap is to actually throw more money at it. 

When a player signs an extension their signing bonus is prorated over the length of the deal in regards to the cap hit. So a five-million dollar signing bonus on a five-year deal would prorate to just one million dollars per year on the cap. 

You'll often see small base amounts in the first year of a player's extension because they were already given a signing bonus when they signed, a big check, and a small base in that first year combined with a prorated signing bonus means a small cap number in that first year. 

In that same example from above, if the player had a one million dollar base salary in that first year, he would count for just two-million dollars on the cap in year one, but technically would have been given six-million dollars because of the signing bonus check. 


The Numbers

The market dictates the numbers on contract extensions. 

For Berry and the Chiefs, two contracts that would be useful starting points would be the Falcons' William Moore and the Chargers' Eric Weddle. 

Moore signed a five-year, $30 million deal that included $14 million guaranteed and an $8.25 million signing bonus. 

Weddle and Moore's five-year contract extensions, cap hits
Eric WeddleWilliam Moore
YearCap numberYearCap number
2011$3.6 million2013$3.9 million
2012$7.6 million2014$5.15 million
2013$8.6 million2015$5.65 million
2014$10.1 million2016$6.65 million
2015$10.1 million2017$8.65 million

Weddle signed a five-year, $40 million deal that included $19 million guaranteed and a $13 million signing bonus. 

Berry would be somewhere in the range of these two deals, probably closer to Weddle's numbers, if not just above. He has made the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons, although only one side of the negotiation table will bring that up.

He's somewhere in the $6-8 million per year range. 

The interesting thing is that neither Weddle, nor Moore's cap hit ever gets as high as Berry's is this season for the Chiefs. 

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) runs onto the field before the game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Denver won 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With two years and just over $13.5 million left on his rookie deal, Berry has a starting point for negotiations. Whatever deal the Chiefs could try and extend with Berry, the $13.5 million over the next two years is already included. 

So, if we're looking at a five-year extension for Berry, we're really only talking about the final three years. 

Just for the sake of argument let's pretend the Chiefs are willing to pay $8 million per year to Berry over those three years of Berry's prime. That's an extra $24 million added to the $13.5 million already included on Berry's current deal—a total of $37.5 million over the next five years. 

That's less than Weddle's deal overall but still more than fair given the market. 


The Selling Point For Berry

Ask any NFL player and there's a good bet they'll tell you the only thing that matters in a contract is the amount of guaranteed money. 

The NFL is unlike the NBA or MLB, where you're guaranteed the money on your contract once you sign the deal. A player in the NFL could sign a $100 million contract and never see more than $40 million or so, that's why the guaranteed money in the NFL is so important. 

Berry was given more than $25 million guaranteed in his rookie contract because the system was broken at the time. It's been fixed now and that's not Berry's fault, but he's in a unique position to have three opportunities at something NFL players hope for just once. 

Berry already got a big deal after he was drafted. Now, at 25 years old, Berry could sign an extension with more guaranteed money and become a free agent again at 30 years old. Barring a major injury, Berry could once again be in-line for a multi-year deal at that point, which would include more guaranteed money. 

One would think that agents would look for as many opportunities as possible to get guaranteed money for their clients.

This is an opportunity for Berry to get more guaranteed money, something that players covet. The Chiefs could lower their cap number with him over the next two years and also build around one of their core players in their prime. 

The Chiefs have a window to win with linebackers Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston, quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and company.

Berry is a part of that core and needs to be a priority. 


What Does Berry Bring?

Rather than diving through box scores, advanced metrics or paper-heavy accolades, let's take a look from a football perspective at the value Berry brings the Chiefs defense. 

If we're going to use the word "value" in describing what Berry's financial impact could mean on the cap or in cash spending, it's only fair to do the same in illustrating how Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton utilizes Berry's value out on the field. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

These are just a few snapshots that illustrate how Berry was utilized on the Chiefs defense. To put it simply, he was all over the place.

They lined him up inside the box and also back deep. They brought him up on the line of scrimmage in press coverage and backed him off at times as well. 

Sometimes he'd line up as a linebacker and sometimes he'd look like a corner, but every time he looked like a versatile safety that would be extremely difficult to replace. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Berry was the most targeted safety in the NFL.

Thrown-at statistics for some of the NFL's top safeties
Eric WeddleSan Diego Chargers405770.2%
Earl ThomasSeattle Seahawks182864.3%
Eric BerryKansas City Chiefs376358.7%
Donte WhitnerSan Francisco 49ers254852.1%
Jairus ByrdBuffalo Bills112250%
Pro Football Focus


He also tied for the most sacks in the NFL by a safety with four, while also leading the NFL in quarterback hurries with 10. 

So the question becomes how difficult would it be for Sutton to try and replace that tool in his toolbox? 

Or better yet, why would you even try and replace something so versatile?

Jinx Allessio of FootballSavages.com recently wrote of Berry:

A player’s worth is defined by the impact he makes not the position he plays. Berry was not only targeted the most out of any safety but also rushed the passer the most. He was also asked to be a major contributor on run defense. I don’t know what position Eric Berry plays, but what ever he is asked to do, what ever role you define for him – no one does it better, and it’s not close.

If you had to name the seven core players you would try and build the Kansas City Chiefs future around, there's no doubt that Berry has to be included in that group. 


Win-Win Situation

In every agreement, contract or negotiation, each side needs to feel like they've won in some manner. 

In this particular instance, an extension for Berry would mean immediate cap relief for the Chiefs, but also more guaranteed money for Berry and an opportunity at another big pay day at 30 years old.

The Chiefs would lock in a core player throughout a good chunk of his prime, also rewarding Berry after the best season of his young career thus far. 

Sure, there would be cap implications beyond this season, but when your team is successful, which should be what the Chiefs are going for with these decisions, there will always be tough choices. 

Locking up one of your core players shouldn't be considered a tough decision.

In all actuality, this should be pretty simple for the Chiefs, and for Berry. 

Everybody would seem to win on this one.