KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have always been rewarded for their faith in safety Eric Berry, who earlier in his career beat back cancer to return to his previous form as one of the NFL's best safeties.
It's never a good idea to count him out. But after Berry's two mostly inactive seasons, the Chiefs can no longer afford to plan on his return, not after their dismal defense prevented them in 2018 from advancing to the Super Bowl -- something they haven't done in almost 50 years.
They had to make a move at safety, and on the first day of the free-agent negotiating period they made a bold one, agreeing to contract terms with Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu, who turns 27 in May, gives the Chiefs the versatile safety they've lacked ever since losing Berry to a torn Achilles tendon in the 2017 season opener. He'll be the rangy center fielder in coverage they've lived without, but also a presence against the run.
He comes at a considerable cost. His $14 million average annual salary is higher than the $13 million per season the Chiefs gave to Berry two years ago.
But his addition could be the first step in returning some respectability to the Chiefs' defense. The Chiefs had Mathieu as the highest-rated safety available in free agency, ahead of Earl Thomas and Landon Collins.
There's a good chance Mathieu will give the Chiefs much more over the life of his contract than Berry has in the first two seasons of his deal. Mathieu will be only 29 when this contract expires.
He had some injury problems early in his career, finishing three of his first four NFL seasons on the injured reserve list. But he's been durable since, playing all 16 games for the Cardinals in 2017 and for the Texans last season.
The Chiefs may pair Mathieu at safety with Berry, if he's healthy enough to play. The Chiefs could also release Berry, but they've given no indication they're planning to do so and he costs them about the same amount against their salary cap whether he stays with them or goes.
Mathieu and a healthy Berry would give the Chiefs quite the combination at safety, a duo that would turn a huge positional weakness into a strength. But Monday's contract agreement with Mathieu makes a Berry comeback a luxury for the Chiefs.
It's no longer a necessity.