The Kansas City Chiefs began free agency Wednesday by cutting one of their most popular players in strong safety Eric Berry, who was a dynamic presence when he was healthy but had missed significant time throughout his care
While other teams were touting new additions, the Chiefs announced Berry's release shortly after the start of the new league year. He would have been guaranteed $7.5 million of salary on Friday.
"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," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. "Knowing what Eric has meant to this organization and this city made this an incredibly difficult decision."
A three-time All-Pro, Berry was the Chiefs' first-round pick in the 2010 draft, and he quickly became a star, earning the first of five Pro Bowl invitations as a rookie. But he also missed most of the 2011 season with torn knee ligaments, most of the 2017 season with a torn Achilles' tendon, and nearly all of last season, when a mysterious heel injury kept him off the field for all but two games.
Berry also missed 10 games during the 2014 season when he was diagnosed with cancer, but he became a motivation to many when he concluded treatment and was back on the field the following summer.
"On behalf of my family and the entire Chiefs organization, I want to thank Eric for his many contributions to the Chiefs over the last nine seasons," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement.
"Eric has been a tremendous leader for our football team and an inspiration to so many fans over the years," Hunt said, "and we sincerely appreciate all that he has meant to the Chiefs. He will always be an important part of our Chiefs family, and we wish him nothing but the best in the future."
The Chiefs agreed to a $42 million, three-year deal with former Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu before the start of free agency, and it turned out to be a signal that Berry's time in Kansas City was over.
His release comes with a post-June 1 designation, meaning the Chiefs take on $6.5 million in dead money this season and $8 million next season. It also marks the end of an error following the release of linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali last season, and linebacker Justin Houston this season.
The four were pillars for Kansas City during its renaissance under coach Andy Reid.
"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."
While finances were a major consideration in the Chiefs' recent moves, including the trade of top pass rusher Dee Ford to San Francisco, so has the way the roster had been constructed.
The Chiefs sacked longtime coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo shortly after their defense wrapped up a miserable season with a complete letdown against the Patriots in the AFC championship game. Then it picked up steam once Spagnuolo examined the personnel and decided that many of the pieces did not fit with his preferred 4-3 system.
The moves also have been made with an eye on the future. The unloading of several big contracts helps the Chiefs begin to negotiate with defensive tackle Chris Jones and wide receiver Tyreek Hill on extensions. They also are trying to create space to sign quarterback Patrick Mahomes to an extension when he becomes eligible next offseason.