The Kansas City Chiefs could potentially be losing two starting players to free agency, meaning the players would have their choice to sign with any team they want this offseason. Two starters generally are not anything to write home about. Teams lose starters every year to free agency and losing multiple isn’t an uncommon occurrence. However, once you see who these two starters are, this becomes much more significant.
All-Pro safety Eric Berry, a star defensive back for the Chiefs since he was drafted fifth overall by the team in the 2010 collegiate football draft, and second-team all-pro defensive nose tackle Dontari Poe, a consistent force for the Chiefs’ defensive front, are the two contracts up for Kansas City. The Chiefs only have about 4 million dollars in cap room to spend this offseason. This dollar amount may seem like a lot, but believe me, it will not be enough to keep both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe. An All-Pro safety like Eric Berry could command upwards of 10-15 million dollars annually on the free agent market and a young, talented, consistent player with Poe’s size and athleticism up front could draw in anywhere from 3-7 million. Both Poe and Berry are exceptional players who have thrived in Kansas City, so in an ideal scenario, keeping both of them would absolutely be the best option, if possible. John Dorsey, the Chiefs General Manager, does have options to allow keeping one or both players a bit more flexible. As I see it, there are three potential options for the Chiefs, Eric Berry, and Dontari Poe.
Option 1: Utopia
This is the dream option for both John Dorsey and Chiefs fans alike. The Chiefs do have options to free more money for cap room, such as releasing backup quarterback Nick Foles and All-Pro running back, former Kansas City star Jamaal Charles, who hasn’t had a game with more than ten rushing attempts in 16 months. Releasing both players would increase the Chiefs’ 2017 cap room by about 17 million, giving them approximately 21 million in total. This would be enough to sign both players if they would be willing to take a slight pay cut compared to what they could receive on the open market. This scenario is totally possible, however it would have to get done before the early signing period, March 1st, 2017. The Chiefs have yet to release Foles or Charles, and according to Eric Berry’s agent, contract negotiations “have a long way to go”, contrary to Dorsey calling talks “positive”.
Option 2: Franchise Tag
This is the most likely option for keeping both Berry and Poe, but it has its risks and flaws. A franchise tag is an option teams have when players’ contracts are up to sign them to one more year of a contract for a NFL-determined dollar amount based on position. This gives the team one more year with a player potentially going into free agency for usually less money than that player would make on the open market or even with signing with their own team. An NFL team may use only one of these tags per year, and last year the Chiefs used theirs on again pending-free-agent Eric Berry, most likely due to his questionable return due to his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis prior to the 2015-2016 season. To free up the money to pay for a franchise tag, however, the Chiefs would still need to free up some cap room, as a tag for Eric Berry would have a price tag of around 12 million, and a tag for Poe would cost around 14 million. This option would still be pricy, but it would allow the Chiefs to ensure they keep at least one player for a year while working negotiations or moving pieces for the other. However, Berry has already stated before contract negotiations began that he would not play under a franchise tag again, and even if this threat is hollow, and he still plays next season under this proposed tag, it wouldn’t bode well for Berry’s future in Kansas City to upset him during these negotiations. This definitely limits the options for Dorsey if he found himself in a position in which a franchise tag would be the only solution to keeping both players.
Option 3: Poe OR Berry
This is the most interesting option. This option, just as realistic as the others, is the option in which due to cap room constraints, the Chiefs are unable to keep both Poe and Berry, even with a franchise tag, and must choose one to re-sign before the 2017 season begins. If this option presented itself to Dorsey as the final option available, I feel as though signing Poe and letting Berry sign with another team is the better option than vice versa. The reason being is the options the Chiefs have at safety in the near future are much better than the options at nose tackle.
Don’t get me wrong, Berry is a phenomenal player, and easily one of the best safeties in the NFL. He is a more decorated player than Poe, and honestly makes more of an impact on and off the field for Kansas City than Poe does. He almost single-handedly beat the Atlanta Falcons, who even gave Tom Brady and the New England Patriots a run for their money in the Super Bowl. Not to discredit Poe, one of the best defensive nose tackles in the NFL right now. Poe eats up double team blocks without being moved and can’t be one-on-one blocked on a run or pass play.
What this option really comes down to is replacement options, and they are far better for losing Berry. You can’t find a better package of strength and athleticism in a 346-lb. frame than Poe, and he is only 26. Literally, you can’t find it. Exceptional defensive tackles big enough to play nose tackle (325 lb. +) are impossible to find on the free agent market without paying top dollar, and is one of the rarest commodities of football players being drafted out of college. Look at a player like Vince Wilfork, who is still the starting nose tackle for the Houston Texans this season at 35 years old. This isn’t because Vince is an exceptional defensive player overall, but is one of the best in the NFL at playing the position in a 325-lb. body. There frankly aren’t other options. In 2015, defensive tackle Danny Shelton from the University of Washington had an early-to-mid 2nd round draft grade by many analysts before beginning his final season at the University of Washington, meaning he would most likely be selected anywhere from the 33rd-50th pick in the NFL draft. However, after an exceptional season, he shot up in draft grades, not only because he played well, but because he showed explosive athleticism and skill in a 335-lb. frame, a perfect base for being a great nose tackle in the NFL, and he was drafted 12th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. A prospect even close to Poe or even Danny Shelton is not available in this year’s draft or in the foreseeable future.
Almost as if fate was against a Berry-Chiefs long-term marriage, the 2017 NFL draft is one of the deepest in history in terms of safety talent, allowing for exceptional young safeties that will most certainly available when the Chiefs pick 27th in this year’s draft. Jabrill Peppers was a Heisman trophy finalist, an award given to the best player in college football that year, as a safety, and has a mid-to-late first round draft grade by many analysts, so he could potentially be available for the Chiefs at 27. Buddha Baker from Washington University is another great safety that will most definitely be available by pick 27. Other talents such as Desmond King from Iowa and Justin Evans from Texas A&M university could most likely even be options available for the Chiefs in the second round at pick 59. Are these young talents anywhere close to making the kind of impact for the Chiefs that Berry does? Absolutely not. Could they potentially one day? It’s possible. But that’s not the point. The point is each of these young players will do a much more satisfactory job filling in at safety for Berry than the defensive tackle talent of the near future.
The Chiefs should do whatever they can to retain both Poe and Berry, such as the options previously mentioned, as they are both excellent players and both have done so much for the Chiefs on and off the field. If there was an unfortunate circumstance in which Dorsey was forced to re-sign one and let the other go, though, in my opinion, it would be better for the Chiefs long-term to keep Dontari Poe instead of Eric Berry.