KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have long realized the special talent they have in safety Eric Berry. It’s why they selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft and why they kept him around last year as the franchise player after his rookie contract expired.
The Chiefs saw things from Berry in 2016 they hadn’t seen before: game-changing plays that made the difference in narrow victories and the iron will of his leadership. His teammates named him their most valuable player in a unanimous vote.
It all reinforced what the Chiefs believed about Berry and gave them the nudge this time around to give him the long-term contract that they wouldn’t hand him last year.
The Chiefs made Berry the highest-paid safety in the NFL by agreeing to terms with him on a six-year deal worth $78 million, including $40 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
“His outstanding play on the field was rivaled only by his inspirational leadership throughout the season. … He truly is an amazing leader,” chairman Clark Hunt said on Sunday in announcing Berry as the Chiefs’ MVP.
“All of his teammates and coaches benefit from having him part of the Kansas City Chiefs.”
The Chiefs are taking a risk with the length of the contract and the amount of money. Berry is 28 years old, so his age will become a factor before the contract is finished. He’s not that far removed from a bout with lymphoma, though Berry has been cancer-free and played two full seasons since his diagnosis and treatment.
There are risks with making him the franchise player but also with setting him free — and those risks are even greater. Berry had recently drawn the line at being the franchise player for a second straight year. He said he wouldn’t play again on the franchise tag and the Chiefs certainly could have tested whether he would stick to that.
If anything, Berry is a man of his word. It would have hurt him to sit out another season of football.
Letting him walk was the other option, but that would have been the toughest path of all. Berry is Kansas City’s most valuable player in more than just title. He has played five full seasons for the Chiefs and they’ve made the playoffs four times — one miss was in 2012, when Kansas City was a full-blown 2-14 mess.
They’re 0-for-2 in reaching the postseason when he’s missed all or part of the season. The only time the Chiefs have failed to reach the playoffs under coach Andy Reid came in 2014, when Berry missed part of the season because of an ankle injury and another part because of cancer.
In that light, the Chiefs perhaps opted for the least risky option. Sure, they’re counting on a lot from Berry but the one thing they should know about him by now is that he won’t let them down.