With no long-term deal for Eric Berry, Chiefs face dilemma in 2017

Berry and Chiefs never got close (1:30)

Adam Schefter, Tom Waddle and Jeff Saturday react to the Chiefs and Eric Berry failing to reach a deal on a long-term contract. (1:30)

The Kansas City Chiefs love Eric Berry. But as is so often the case with long-term contracts, the issues are (a) how much they love him and (b) what number they felt comfortable assigning to it.

Whatever that number is, it’s less than Berry wanted. So the 4 p.m. ET deadline came and went without a long-term deal for Berry, who now has to either play the 2016 season on the $10.806 million franchise tag or sit out the season.

To be clear, even though Berry has yet to sign his franchise tender and therefore could skip training camp practices without being fined, I don’t think there’s a chance that he'll sit out regular-season games over this. At $10.806 million, he’d be the highest-paid safety in the NFL this year. And if he repeats his strong 2015 season, he’ll be in a strong position to push the safety market higher next spring, likely after Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu sets the top of it.

My understanding from reporting on this over the past few weeks is that Berry started out looking for something in the area of $11 million or $12 million per year. The Chiefs were willing to make him the league’s highest-paid safety, but they could have done that with a deal that paid him $10.3 million per year, and that’s the neighborhood in which the team felt comfortable.

Again, the Chiefs love Berry, and they know their fans do, too. His return from cancer to deliver a Pro Bowl season in 2015 was one of the best stories of the season, and his perseverance and performance were surely worth rewarding. But the Chiefs are still running their team and their salary cap for the next few years and have to make sure they stay true to their budget. As much as they love Berry, paying a safety more than $11 million per year doesn’t fit their plans.

Now, if Berry has another great year, the Chiefs have a problem. His franchise number next year would be $12.9672 million, so they’d want to do a long-term deal to avoid that. And defensive tackle Dontari Poe is eligible for free agency next year, meaning they might have to use the franchise tag on him. But as was the case with a lot of the players who didn’t get long-term deals at the franchise deadline this year -- guys such as Alshon Jeffery, Kirk Cousins and Trumaine Johnson -- the Chiefs want to see one more great year before deciding whether to commit long term at top-of-market dollars.

The Chiefs could end up being bitten by this. They can’t talk to Berry about a long-term deal now until after their season ends, by which time the landscape is sure to have shifted in some way. But at this point, and at this price, there just wasn’t a deal to do that made sense for the Chiefs. No matter how much they love the guy.