There appear to be three main points Mellinger making when suggesting the trade of Berry:
1. Kansas City has a lot of holes to fill and not enough picks to fill them.
2. Berry is one of the few pieces Kansas City has that would command a high return in a trade.
3. Kansas City needs the cap room.
Let’s take a look at those arguments one-by-one.
Point 1: KC Has Holes To Fill
This is an accurate statement. Even with the free agent signings and the projected returns of injured players, the Chiefs have about eight or nine distinct areas in which they need to improve. In no order, the following areas could use a draft pick: interior offensive line, offensive tackle (swing tackle or starting right tackle), defensive line pass rusher, outside linebacker pass rusher (with potential to take over for Tamba Hali or Justin Houston), a middle linebacker for passing downs, a future replacement for Derrick Johnson, a cornerback, a safety, a developmental quarterback, two wide receivers, a third tight end, and a running back to replace Jamaal Charles.
Some of these areas are more urgent than others. Finding Johnson’s replacement, for example, doesn’t immediately need to be done, but will need to be considered soon. And some other areas could easily be faked for a season, like finding another quarterback.
What’s important to not here is that while the Chiefs do have needs, few of them are critical to them being a winning team this season. This isn’t a situation like with the Oakland Raiders or Jacksonville Jaguars where they are still trying to find core pieces to their team. The Chiefs have a core that’s good enough to win with but do not have some of the key supplemental pieces to assist said core. When it comes to the immediate future of the Chiefs, they need players already on the roster to get better moreso than they need draft picks to produce quickly.
The passing offense is going to look much better if Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano are healthy and on the same page with Alex Smith. Pass coverage should be better with Marcus Cooper having an off season to process what he experienced and to get bigger and stronger. Brandon Flowers now understands what it takes to play in the slot and can adjust accordingly. Eric Fisher, Knile Davis, and Mike Catapano should all be in better positions to contribute this season. These are all players who are more important to the Chiefs immediate success than anyone the Chiefs could draft in May.
Yes, the Chiefs have holes, but those holes are fillable within the team’s current roster.
Point 2: Eric Berry’s Value
When it comes to adding quality draft picks, Berry is one of the few players on the roster who could command a significant return. Some may argue why not trade Hali or Flowers for draft picks as opposed to Berry. The answer is simply Hali and Flowers cannot return in a trade what Berry can command.
Consider the way some of the guys who were put on the trading block this off season were handled. Darrell Revis, potentially the best cornerback in the league, was released because Tampa Bay could not get a fair draft pick for him. This was mostly due to his expensive contract.
DeSean Jackson was released due to his fit in the locker room. No one was willing to give up a third round pick for him, including the Chiefs.
Hali is on the wrong side of 30 and has an expensive contract. Those two things make it difficult for the Chiefs to get anything of value out of Hali. How willing are you to unload him for a fifth or sixth round pick? This is what we’re looking at.
Why trade Hali when A) the Chiefs cannot replace him at the moment, B) there was no one they could acquire who would be more affordable and just as good, and C) the return is one day three draft pick?
Berry has more things going for him that would in turn make him more valuable to teams. He’s young, already one of the best in the game at his position, and his pending contract extension should make him more affordable in terms of cap space. This is why he or Dontari Poe may be the two most valuable trade assets the Chiefs have on the roster.
Point 3: Kansas City Needs The Cap Room
They did, yes, but not anymore.
If the Chiefs were going to make this move, they needed to do it before the start of free agency when the money would have been more useful. Kansas City will be tight on cap space again in 2015, but not as tight as this season. They do have free agents in Alex Smith, Houston, and Rodney Hudson, but unlike this season, they have more future cap space to work with.
They issue Kansas City had heading into this off season was less about the cap room they had now and more about the cap room the did not have in 2015. This made it more difficult for them to structure contracts that would fit their 2014 payroll. Next off season, the Chiefs can defer money to the 2016 season and beyond.
Assuming a cap of $150 million for the 2016 season, which is the early conservative projection, the Chiefs currently have $96 million in cap space to work with. Some of that money will be taken by draft picks and for extensions for Smith and Houston, but the Chiefs have plenty of room to work with for signing players.
Additionally, there are several players who become far more “cuttable” next off season than they were this off season. Kansas City can save $9 million in cap space by cutting Hali, $7.5 million by trading or cutting Flowers, $5.5 million for letting go of Sean Smith, $4 million for walking away from Mike DeVito, $3.8 million for cutting Chase Daniel, and $3.55 million for releasing Donnie Avery. Hell, the Chiefs could cut Dwayne Bowe next March and save $3.5 million.
Now that this primary free agent season is finished, salary cap really isn’t much of an issue for the Chiefs anymore. No, this does not mean they will go break the bank on players next Spring, but the flexibility Mellinger is calling for will already exist.
If the point of trading Berry is to open up cap space then a trade would be foolish. Adding picks, especially in this draft, would make a great deal of sense, but the Chiefs could add picks and fill the roster holes they have by simply trading down in the draft. Trading down from their third round spot to add a fourth, fifth, and seventh round pick would work just fine.
It isn’t that trading Berry doesn’t makes sense, because it does. It just doesn’t make sense to do so now after free agency is mostly over and Kansas City’s own free agents have signed elsewhere.