The 2017 off-season could change the state of the franchise for the Kansas City Chiefs. General manager John Dorsey is in the process of negotiating new contracts with Chief defensive staples Eric Berry and Dontari Poe. The two fan favorites have made multiple Pro Bowls. The tight salary cap situation the Chiefs find themselves in however, may prevent the team from re-signing both players. A tough decision is going to have to be made. While it may not be a popular decision, re-signing Berry and letting Poe test free agency seems to be the most beneficial option for the Chiefs.
Keeping Both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe
Eric Berry is Worth the Money
Eric Berry is coming off a fantastic 2016 campaign. He tied his career high of four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Berry also was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl in his seven-year career. The only two years he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl were years in which he didn’t play a full season (one game in 2011, and six games in 2014). Berry has fantastic cover skills, third in coverage among safeties according to Pro Football Focus, but also can be a force in the box. Very few safeties have the ability to push through an offensive lineman in order to get to the ball carrier. Eric Berry is one of those. It is impossible to replace an all-around player like that.
According to OverTheCap.com the Chiefs are sitting with roughly $4.7 million in cap room. As of right now, Eric Berry is set to earn at least $10.8 million under the franchise tag. It is likely Berry is looking to become the highest-paid safety in the NFL, which would mean a contract of $12.5 million/year at least. This would place him above Tyrann Mathieu, currently the highest paid safety. The Chiefs could structure this contract to be back loaded. This would mean paying Berry less through the first two years of the contract, giving the Chiefs more cap space, but then pay him over $12.5 million per year for the final two. Not only does this alleviate cap pressure now, but it still allows Eric Berry to be the highest paid safety in the league.
Back Issues Tend to Be Chronic Injuries
Dontari Poe has been a staple of the Kansas City defense at the nose tackle position. At 6’3” and 346 pounds, it is pretty amazing that he ran a 4.98 40-yard dash time at the Combine (faster than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and .1 second slower than Tamba Hali). Poe however, is coming off arguably his worst season since entering the league in 2012. He recorded a mere 18 tackles in 2016, a career low. He also finished with less than two sacks for his second consecutive season. The Chiefs run defense was abysmal this year as teams were able to run it down Kansas City’s throat, in large part due to Poe’s poor performance. What made him struggle so much this year? Many would argue his back injuries.
Last off-season, the 26-year old underwent back surgery for a herniated disk. While he was able to return to the field this season his performance was clearly affected. He was listed on the injury report multiple times during the year with back spasms and pain. Unfortunately, these types of injuries tend to be lingering and chronic. Just look at J.J. Watt. A defensive lineman with back problems is not the type of player you want to sign to a long-term deal.
The Chiefs Value Him More Than Most NFL Teams
Bob Sutton’s defense is a 3-4 scheme. This requires a big strong nose tackle that can take on double teams. Dontari Poe is the perfect fit for a defense like this. However, a team that uses a 4-3 scheme would have little use for a nose tackle like him. The majority of 3-4 teams also have a clear backup for the nose tackle position. The Chiefs do not. Chris Jones may have initially been brought in to be a nose tackle, but this year it became clear he belongs at the end. Jones is too tall to be a nose tackle, allowing linemen to get leverage underneath him due to his high pad level. Jones is much better as a slasher that hits the gap and has superior hand fighting skills. Traits you don’t need in a nose tackle, but rather in an end. Rakeem Nunez-Roches is not wide enough to play the tackle position either, which leaves Jaye Howard as the best replacement option. The Chiefs need Poe since he is the only true tackle on the roster. Kansas City will be willing to spend more on him than other teams. However, it may be best to let him test the open market.
It’s a risky move no doubt, but it is unlikely Poe will be offered the type of money he’s asking for from the Kansas City Chiefs if he were to test free agency. A 3-4 defensive tackle coming off a horrible season with back problems is not the most appealing commodity on the market. Most teams will not want to commit too much capital to a player with so many questions. If he tests the open market and finds his value is far less than he believes, it’s possible the Chiefs can swoop in and bring him back with a much more manageable contract. We saw a similar thing happen with Howard a few years ago and the Chiefs ended up resigning him for a less than $4 million a year.
Re-signing Eric Berry needs to be priority number one. The only way to ensure the Chiefs have the cap space to do that is by letting Dontari Poe test free agency. It’s still very likely Kansas City ends up getting both players back, the only difference is this way Dontari Poe is not going to take up so much cap room. Keeping both players will keep this defense at an elite level, it’s just going to take some financial maneuvering and a bit of risk to do it.