John Dorsey has a problem, a problem I’m glad I don’t have to solve.
Eric Berry is still going through treatment for Lymphoma which creates a great deal of doubt about Berry’s future on and off the field. As it relates to football, the Chiefs have him under contract for just one more season, 2015, and his cap number is an estimated $8.357 million. The combination of the unknowns plus the immediate need for cap space makes figuring out what to do with Berry’s football future with the Chiefs a difficult one.
There are, however, some options.
The Chiefs could place Berry on the active or reserve non-football injury list. Placing Berry on the active/NFI list initially seems like the best bet for what the Chiefs will do this spring. An active/NFI designation would allow for the possibility that should Berry get healthy soon (which is what we are all hoping for) then he could return to the field for the Chiefs in 2015 once he’s physically able to participate.
Placing him on the reserve/NFI would end his season but it would open up a roster spot for the Chiefs. Since roster sizes during the offseason allow for 90 players, it would makes sense for the Chiefs to hold off on ending Berry’s season until cutdowns in August and the Chiefs know more about Berry’s health situation.
The non-football injury list allows for teams to not pay the base salary of the player, which for Berry is about $5.5 million. So, technically, the Chiefs could not pay Berry’s $5.5 million salary and save that sum of money against the cap.* The issue there is the PR nightmare of not paying a player because he has cancer, and the nightmare for Berry who would be without a salary while trying to battle cancer.
What seems likely in this scenario is for the Chiefs to negotiate his salary down to a lower number. There is precedent for teams and a player to negotiate a significantly lower salary in order to help reduce the salary cap burden to the team while the player still gets some level of compensation. KC could save $5 million or they could save $1 million or they could save nothing – it’s up to how the negotiations go and what the Chiefs want to do.
It should be noted, however, that the Chiefs paid Berry in full during the final six weeks of the season, which would seem to indicate they plan on honoring his contract. With that in mind we get to our final option for Berry: give him a new short-term contract.
Again, Berry is in the final year of his deal and figuring out a new deal for him was something the Chiefs were going to have to do anyway. There are methods within the collective bargaining agreement for the Chiefs to re-sign Berry while also protecting themselves if Berry’s cancer takes a while to go away or if (Deity forbid) the cancer comes back after he’s beaten it.
This may actually be a reasonable idea. The Chiefs could use the opportunity to open up some cap space for the 2015 season while absorbing some of his future cost by restructuring his 2015 deal and front-loading some of the bonus money. Berry would have his deal, some cash upfront while he’s trying to get healthy, and, most importantly, quality health insurance, while the Chiefs would have a Pro Bowl safety locked up for a reduced cost.
Certainly there are some drawbacks to that idea. Trying to figure out how to fairly compensate Berry is something that would be tough to define as well as figuring out his longterm health situation, but there should be motivation on both side to consider getting a deal done now. It’s not an ideal situation no matter which route the Chiefs or Berry choose to go.
Another option is to cut Berry, which would save the Chiefs the full $5.5 million. Obviously that’s unlikely to happen.
Whatever happens with Berry, the key will remain getting him healthy. Hopefully there is a way to take a terrible situation and turn it into a positive that helps Berry in his personal life and the Chiefs on the field.
*Note: Because Berry’s contract was restructured a few seasons ago, there is still prorated portions of his bonus remaining on his contract that will count against the Chiefs’ cap no matter what happens.