Berry beat cancer, will he beat NFL salary cap? - KCTV5

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Berry beat cancer, will he beat NFL salary cap?

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Eric Berry had a big day along with the rest of the Chiefs defense Eric Berry had a big day along with the rest of the Chiefs defense
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Twelve months ago, he was battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, enduring chemotherapy treatments that he called "A monster. You literally feel like you're dying every day."

In the end, cancer couldn't keep Eric Berry away from his football team.

But today, the Pro Bowl safety is facing a foe that perhaps even he can't beat: the NFL salary cap.

The highly paid Berry is a free agent, which means he can sign with any NFL team. While he's expressed a desire to play here in Kansas City, the numbers might not work.

And Berry isn't the only player in this situation. There are 22 Chiefs players from last season who enter this off-season as free agents. 

With a finite amount of money to spend, which of those guys should the Chiefs keep, and which players should they allow to leave?

Linebacker Derrick Johnson is the team's most veteran player. The 33-year old linebacker was the Chiefs first-round draft pick in 2005, and, after an up-and- down start, he's grown into one of the team's most consistent performers. While he is no longer one of the league's most explosive playmakers, the four-time Pro Bowl player is a leader on defense, the kind of guy who helped the Chiefs fight back from their awful 1-5 start this past season.

There isn't a football coach in America who wouldn't want a guy like DJ on their team. The problem is, many of these decisions are made by GMs, who do their jobs with one eye on the player and the other eye on the salary cap. 

Would re-signing Johnson help next year's defense?

Of course.

But, at 33, is DJ too old to invest a lot of money in? Last year, he made just over $5.2 million, making him the team's seventh-highest paid player. 

One former Chiefs official told me "I love Derrick. He was always a rock-solid guy. From day-one, he was capable of making huge plays, but he also worked and worked to become a consistent player. Now, you can count on him to know his assignment and do his job, play after play." 

But that same man said, "Signing DJ is the right thing for the team, but the wrong thing for the salary cap."

The reason: signing DJ would impact the Chiefs' ability to keep other free agents like Eric Berry.

"There's no way they want to lose a guy like Eric Berry," he said. "Just like Derrick, Berry's grown into a team leader. A real pro."

The Chiefs 2010 first-round pick was voted into his fourth pro bowl this season. On top of that, he has become a symbol to Chiefs fans everywhere, who have followed his battle against cancer closely.

At 29, Berry is not a kid, but safeties can typically play longer than cornerbacks, and strong safeties can play longer than free safeties. Berry made over $8.3 million last season, which was third-highest on the team. It will take big money to keep him.

"His ability to come up and make plays in the run game is impressive," one NFL scout told me. "Plus, while he's not the best cover guy in the league (among strong safeties), he can make plays there."

More than that, he says Berry helped quarterback the Chiefs secondary.

"He's a really solid player," he said, "Who really fit in great with (defensive coordinator) Bob Sutton's scheme."

So, should the Chiefs pay up to keep him?

"I would," the scout said. "It works on so many levels. He's a team leader, a guy everyone respects, and he is an elite player."

And what about Tamba Hali? The "old man" of the Chiefs defensive line is 32 years old, but he played well enough this season to be voted into his sixth Pro Bowl. At a shade under $5 million, the pass rushing linebacker was the eighth-highest paid player on the Chiefs roster.

"Hali is not the same player he was even two seasons ago," one NFL assistant said. "He's a good but not great outside pass rusher."

While his numbers might be diminished, the former Chiefs assistant is a fan of the team's 2006 first-round pick.

"The one thing I love about Tamba is his approach to the game. He gives full effort all the time, and that rubs off on his teammates."

So, would the NFL scout keep him?

"No. I think it's time to move on," he told me. "They drafted Dee Ford to play that position, it's time to let him move into the starting line up."

But the former Chiefs assistant disagrees.

"With a guy like Tamba, you don't go by the numbers," he said with obvious passion, "His contribution goes beyond sacks or tackles. He is going to threaten the quarterback on every pass play because of his all out effort. He makes Justin Houston a lot better."

I asked the same man about Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

"Look how he effected the Chiefs defense when he came back from the suspension," he said. "His ability to play press coverage allowed Coach Sutton to take some chances up front. You can't have exotic blitz packages if your guys can't cover, and with Smith on one side and the rookie (Marcus Peters) on the other, the Chiefs defense could really cover!"

At $7.7 million, Smith was the team's fifth-highest paid player, but at 27, he's a younger guy with tons of experience.

The former Chiefs man said this is a "no-brainer."

"Unless they draft or sign another big-time corner, they need to keep Smith," he said.

But the NFL scout disagrees.

"Yeah, he's good, but you can find corners (in the draft), and the good ones can play immediately, so I'd let him walk," he said.

I wasn't surprised that the three men didn't always agree about the players. Like beauty, indispensable football players are in the eye of the beholder.

Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali and Sean Smith. All important pieces to the Chiefs highly-ranked defense, all potentially gone.

As a Chiefs fan, that makes me sad.

Will Chiefs GM John Dorsey and Coach Andy Reid view them with their hearts (yeah, keep him) or their brains (got to let him go)?

I'll be sorry if the Chiefs fail to keep all or most of these guys, but if the team wins next season, Dorsey and Reid will be judged to have done their jobs correctly.

While I might disagree, in the NFL, winning is all that matters.

"If you don't win, you don't keep your job," the former Chiefs assistant told me. He should know. He was on a staff that was fired here.

I'll try to remember that if I end up watching Barry, Hali or DJ playing against the Chiefs next season.

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