KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs released safety Eric Berry in the first minutes of the NFL's new league year, completing a sweeping away of the club's former defensive leadership that already saw the release of Justin Houston and the trade of Dee Ford to San Francisco.
The Chiefs released Berry with a post-June 1 designation. That allows the Chiefs to split the salary cap impact of Berry's remaining signing bonus over this season and 2020. Berry stood to account for $16.5 million against the cap in 2019.
His release allows the Chiefs to avoid $7.25 million of his 2019 base salary of $12.4 million becoming fully guaranteed on Friday. A total of $2.95 million of the base salary was already guaranteed, and will hit against this year's cap. The Chiefs will also take a charge of $4 million from Berry's prorated signing bonus paid out in 2017, for a total cap allowance of $6.95 million this season. That leaves $8 million in prorated signing bonus the Chiefs will absorb against the 2020 salary cap.
The Chiefs will gain $9.55 million in salary cap space, but that won't appear until June 2. The post-June 1 designation allows teams to release a player before June 1, but the team must continue to carry the player's salary cap number as if he were on the team until June 1. On June 2, Berry's salary cap number will drop to $6.95 million for this season.
The signing of safety Tyrann Mathieu appears to have served as the bridge allowing the Chiefs to move on without Berry. The club and Mathieu reportedly agreed to a three-year contract worth $42 million. It's anticipated the team will finalized the deal Wednesday afternoon.
Head coach Andy Reid commended Berry on his contributions to the team in a statement issued by the club.
“I’d like to thank Eric for his contributions to our team and the Kansas City community over the last nine years,” Reid said. “Seeing his passion and watching his love for the game has been truly remarkable. He’s a special person, and we wish him the best as his career moves forward.”
The Chiefs underwent an evaluation of their defense upon the arrival of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and that review seems to indicate the Chiefs believe they can improve without Berry.
“We continually evaluate every aspect of our football team and we came to the decision that it was in our best interest to release Eric,” general Manager Brett Veach said in a statement. “Knowing what Eric has meant to this organization and this city made this an incredibly difficult decision. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Chiefs chairman and CEO thanked Berry for his contributions to the organization over the past nine seasons.
“Eric has been a tremendous leader for our football team and an inspiration to so many fans over the years, and we sincerely appreciate all that he has meant to the Chiefs," Hunt said in a statement. "He will always be an important part of our Chiefs family, and we wish him nothing but the best in the future.”
Berry earned three first-team All Pro honors and five trips to the Pro Bowl in his time with the Chiefs. He received the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year Award and the Ed Block Courage Award in 2015 after returning to the field after his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He earned the team’s Derrick Thomas Award as most valuable player in 2015 and 2016.
He also turned in one of the most memorable plays in franchise history with a two-point defensive conversion lifting the Chiefs to a dramatic 29-28 victory over Atlanta in 2016. It was the first defensive conversion on an interception since the league adopted the rule in 2015. He also returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the game in his hometown.
Berry finished his Kansas City career with 440 tackles (372 solo), 5 1/2 sacks, 14 interceptions (five returned for touchdowns), 51 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 89 games with the Chiefs over the past nine seasons.