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Trading Eric Berry Wouldn't Help the Kansas City Chiefs

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Trading Eric Berry Wouldn't Help the Kansas City Chiefs
Wade Payne

The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t in a great position to build upon their 2013 season for several reasons. First, they weren’t very active in free agency because they didn’t have much cap space. Second, they will also be without their second-round pick next month because they traded it to the San Francisco 49ers for quarterback Alex Smith last year.

You might say the Chiefs are paying off the debt they incurred getting things turned around a season ago. Moving forward, the Chiefs will have to be smart to avoid paying interest on those moves and regressing to the mean.

One of the easiest ways to pay down a debt and get on the path to recovery is by selling an asset. Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star recently suggested trading star strong safety Eric Berry. His reasoning was that the draft picks acquired in a trade and cap savings would help the team more than Berry himself.

There is no guarantee that trading Berry wouldn’t help the Chiefs at all. Mellinger is on the right track, but there is a better way.

Trading Berry would be like selling your only car to pay off credit card debt when you depend on the car to make a living. It makes sense to pay off the high-interest credit cards, but now you have to find a new car. If that car isn’t as nice as your old one, you just hurt yourself more than you helped yourself.  

Sure, trading Berry would give the Chiefs cap flexibility and a couple of draft picks. While that seems great, it’s better in theory than practice. Mellinger’s suggested draft compensation might not be as realistic as the NFL sources he talked to would have you believe, and the cap savings is modest.

If the Chiefs traded Berry, they would save $5.8 million in cap space in 2014 and free up $8.4 million next season. What good does $5.8 million do the Chiefs at this stage of the offseason? It wouldn’t help them at all in 2014, but it would give the Chiefs cap flexibility next year.

Player Cut/Trade Base Prorated Signing Roster Workout Cap # Dead $ Cap Savings
Berry 2014 $8.4M $2.9M $0 $300K $11.6M $5.8M $5.8M
Berry 2015 $5.2M $2.9M $0 $300K $8.4M $2.9M $5.5M
Hali 2014 $6.3M $3.0M $2.0M $300K $11.5M $5.9M $5.5M
Hali 2015 $6.8M $3.0M $2.0M $300K $12.0M $3.0M $9.0M

overthecap.com

This, Mellinger says, will help re-sign outside linebacker Justin Houston, among other moves. Mellinger smartly suggests making Houston a priority, but doing so at the expense of Berry isn’t necessary.  

A much better candidate for cap savings next year is linebacker Tamba Hali, who turns 31 this November. Cutting Hali next year would result in cap savings of $9 million—more than enough cap room in 2014 to sign Houston.

The Chiefs could also trade Hali and save $5.5 million this year and $12 million next year. The pick wouldn’t be a premium one, but Hali also isn’t a player who is going to be on the roster long term.

Berry does not turn 26 until December, so he’s still in his prime. It would make more sense for the Chiefs to sign Berry to an extension next year that spreads some of his cap hit out over multiple years. This could give the Chiefs the money they need to sign Houston while retaining one of the best safeties in the NFL—a position that is only growing in importance in the NFL.

There’s another problem with trading Berry—draft picks are inherently risky. In theory, the Chiefs could get a great player and another starter with a second- and third-round pick. In practice, even the best front offices in the league will have some misses.

Ed Zurga
Draft picks are risky.

There is no doubt that a scout or coach would trade a top draft pick for Berry, but a general manager has to think the salary cap. If Berry were overpaid, why would they consider trading for him? The reality is that Berry’s salaries for the next two years are high, but they aren’t out of range for his position.

Berry is a known producer both on and off the field and he has plenty of good years left in his body. Berry is a good player in his prime, which is why a team might be willing to part with a high draft pick for him.

Berry’s perceived value might be higher than his actual value, but that’s also just speculation. This idea stems from things like awards and peer voting that general managers don’t care about.  

Replacing Berry would also be far from easy. Mellinger suggests Husain Abdullah, Sanders Commings or a rookie could help fill the void. Mellinger also says that “box safeties” like Berry are easy to find but ignores that Berry is so much more than a box safety.

A “box safety” implies a safety that supports the run and is limited in coverage, but that doesn’t describe Berry. In fact, Berry was Pro Football Focus’ third best safety in coverage last year (subscription required).

Eric Berry 2013 Grades & Statistics
Grades PFF Grade PFF Pass Rush PFF Coverage Grade PFF Run Grade
Berry 14.5 (3) 0.3 (15) 12.5 (3) 0.9 (32)
Stats Snaps Hurries INTs Tackling Efficiency
Berry 1039 (32) 17 (1) 3 (8) 13.2 (12)

https://www.profootballfocus.com

Berry dropped into coverage 56.8 percent of the time last year, per Pro Football Focus, the exact same percentage as free safety Eric Weddle. Opposing quarterbacks also targeted Berry more than any other safety, but that was because he did a lot more than just play a deep zone.

Berry is also a good blitzer, something he proved last season in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme. Not all “box safeties” are good in this area, and Berry led all safeties in total pressure with 17 in 2014 per Pro Football Focus.

Berry also ranked 12th in tackling efficiency, otherwise known as tackles per missed tackle. Basically, Berry was Sutton’s Swiss Army knife on defense.

To replace Berry, the Chiefs would need another good cornerback, a box safety and a free safety all rolled into one. Berry may or may not be elite in any of those areas depending on your perspective, but trading him would open up more holes than just that of a box safety.

If the Chiefs want to free up cap space, there are many better candidates on the roster than Berry. Cutting cornerback Brandon Flowers next year would yield $7.5 million in savings, quarterback Chase Daniel $3.8 million and wide receiver Donnie Avery another $3.5 million.

Cap Savings by Year Cut/Traded
Players 2014 2015 2016 2017
Eric Berry $5.8M $5.8M - -
Dwayne Bowe -$10.25M $3.5M $7.0M $10.0M
Brandon Flowers $3.5M $7.5M $8.8M -
Tamba Hali $5.5M $9.0M - -
Donnie Avery $0.9M $3.6M - -
Chase Daniel $1.4M $3.8M - -
Dustin Colquitt $1.4M $2.9M $4.1M -

overthecap.com

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe’s status is uncertain beyond next year. The Chiefs would gain $7 million in cap savings in 2016 and more in 2017 by cutting or trading Bowe after next season. This is savings the Chiefs can use to give an extension to Houston.

There really is no need to use Berry as an asset to pay for Houston—the Chiefs can keep both of them. The draft picks gained wouldn’t be enough to fill multiple holes and compensate for losing Berry—at least not immediately.

A good general manager doesn’t rule out anything, but unless John Dorsey gets an offer he can’t refuse, it makes very little sense for him to trade Berry. Giving Berry an extension is much higher on the priority list.

Unless otherwise noted, all salary and salary cap data from Over the Cap.

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