By DAVE SKRETTA
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — Eric Berry overcame cancer to return to the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
Now, the Chiefs are hopeful he’ll be with them much longer.
The team placed the franchise tag on the All-Pro safety on Tuesday, which means the 27-year-old Berry will make $10,806,000 on a one-year contract next season. But both sides have expressed a willingness to work out a long-term deal, and those negotiations are likely to continue for the next couple months.
“Our goal is to keep Eric in Kansas City for the foreseeable future,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. “He’s a special player that means a lot to our organization, the city, and has been a critical piece in building our foundation. With today being the deadline to use the franchise tag, we felt it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Eric.”
Dorsey said during last week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis that he’s had “really good discussions” with Berry’s representatives, and “we will continue to build on those discussions.”
The sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, otherwise Berry will play for the franchise number. He does not have to sign the tender immediately, though — essentially giving Berry the freedom to skip offseason workouts, training camp and even the preseason with no penalty.
Then again, he’s never been the kind of guy to skip out on a challenge.
Berry was diagnosed with lymphoma midway through the 2014 season and immediately began treatments that robbed him of his hair and sapped him of his strength. But after grueling rounds of chemotherapy, Berry was deemed cancer-free last summer, giving him enough time to report to training camp.
The team’s emotional on-field leader, Berry proceeded to have the finest season of his six-year career. The 2010 first-round pick made 55 solo tackles and two interceptions while playing in every game.
Along with a Pro Bowl nod, that earned him the AP’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
“I think he wants to be here and we probably want him to be here and all that. But that’s all the agents,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said recently. “Our people need to get with him and they deal with all that and work through all that stuff. … But do I like Eric Berry? I can tell you I love Eric Berry.”
While the franchise tag was hardly a surprise, it was not a foregone conclusion. Kansas City has several valuable contributors heading toward free agency, including cornerback Sean Smith and defensive lineman Jaye Howard, either of which would have been franchise tag candidates.
Other key pieces from last year’s playoff team poised to hit free agency include linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, two of the team’s longest-tenured players, along with quarterback Chase Daniel, offensive lineman Jeff Allen, safety Husain Abdullah and defensive tackle Mike DeVito.
“I won’t comment on any one of them specifically, but all of them are very important to this franchise,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said late in the season. “One of the things I like best about pro football is when players stay with the team that they were drafted with for their entire career. That doesn’t happen a lot anymore, but if we could have all of those guys back, I would love it.”
In the case of Berry, the Chiefs took another step Tuesday toward making that happen.
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