Eric Berry’s big year is laying the foundation for another big payday.
The Chiefs safety, to whom the team applied the franchise tag after his prior contract expired, didn’t sign a long-term deal before July 15. It means that the Chiefs soon will have to decide whether to apply the tag to Berry again, or to sign Berry to a long-term deal.
The tag won’t be cheap. At $10.806 million for 2016, Berry will be owed a 20-percent raise under the tag for 2017. That’s $12.96 million for one season at the safety position, nearly $500,000 more per year than safety Tyrann Mathieu is getting under his top-of-the-market deal.
It becomes even harder to negotiate a long-term deal, since Berry can force his way to the market in 2018, unless the Chiefs plan to give him the quarterback version of the franchise tag to keep him in place for another year.
Berry, who turns 28 later this month, showed on Sunday how important he is to the Chiefs defense. Apart from his contributions on the field, his leadership and personal story of overcoming serious adversity make him even more valuable.
The challenge becomes attaching the right value to his contract, and ultimately finding a way to bridge the gap between what he wants and what the Chiefs will pay.
Here’s the simple reality: If the Chiefs won’t pay him what he wants, someone else possibly will. Like, for example, the team in his home state of Georgia that Berry singlehandedly defeated with a pick six and a game-winning pick two.
Berry gets another chance to demonstrate his value to the Chiefs tonight, in a prime-time matchup with the Raiders. Which only happens to have the AFC West crown essentially hanging in the balance.