Dontari Poe or Eric Berry: who should the Chiefs keep?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts. Great stuff here -Joel

Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey has to be loving this season. After a rocky 2-2 start, the Chiefs have gone 8-1 since, with road wins over Carolina, Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, and Indianapolis (finally got that monkey off our backs), and completed the season sweep against the Raiders. Seemingly every move he has made as GM has paid off, and the Chiefs currently have the inside track to the number two seed in the AFC, with the first-round bye and January home game at Arrowhead that come along with it.

However, a potentially franchise-altering situation looms this offseason: both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe are set to hit free agency, but the Chiefs will have virtually no cap space and Dorsey will face a massive decision regarding the two Chief draft picks and cornerstones of the defense. So if you're Dorsey, and you can only keep one, which one should you re-sign?

Due to EB29's almost otherworldly play in the second half of the season, this choice seems be easy: pay Berry, let Poe walk. He's one of the three best safeties in the league (depending on how you feel about Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor), and is the unquestioned heart, sole, and emotional leader of the entire team, not just the defense. However, given recent events, this is not an entirely cut-and-dry situation.

(Hat tip to MNChiefsFan for the fantastic .gifs, and all salary numbers courtesy of

Dontari Poe

Poe is a freak of a human being. At 6'3" and nearly 350 lbs, he moves like a man 100 pounds lighter, and is insanely strong. He often draws double teams from opposing offensive linemen, leaving the other member of the Chiefs' front seven (Houston, Ford, Jones, et al.) in one-on-one situations to rush the quarterback. For example:

Jones makes an outstanding individual play on this snap, due to his ridiculous man-strength and ballerina agility, but Poe draws the double team that leaves Jones one-on-one. Stuff like this doesn't show up in the box score, but Poe does it multiple times a game.

He also is a brick wall that holds up at the point of attack against the run, leaving linebackers free to shoot the gaps:

(Moment of silence for DJ. This still hurts, and he will be sorely missed for the remainder of the postseason. One of my all-time favorite Chiefs.) The Chiefs were already weak against the run before DJ's injury, and he will be out all of next season. Losing Poe would seriously hurt the Chiefs ability to stop the run.

Not content to mere draw double teams to free up teammates, Poe can be a one-man wrecking crew, destroying pockets and affecting passes:

Opposing teams don't simply double Poe out of convenience or because a guard doesn't have anything better to do on a given play. He quite literally, in the fullest sense of the word, commands double teams.

It is also apparent that the Chiefs simply don't anyone one the roster capable of replacing him next season. "Nacho" has had flashes, but...
Jones isn't a NT, and Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard, and Kendall Reyes are all better suited to play DE. Nor is there a free agent on the market that on the same level as Poe; none of the upcoming 2017 free agents excite me. If they chose to let Poe walk, they would likely need to use yet another high draft pick on a defensive lineman to replace him. Poe is vital to the Chiefs' run defense, and I only see it getting worse if he is not here next year.

The question with Poe is going to be how much does he want? The NFL's four highest paid DTs can provide us with a baseline for what he might demand on the open market:


Year Signed


Total Value


Signing Bonus

Average Annual Value

Gerald McCoy, TB


7 Years

$95.2 mil

$51.5 mil

$2.5 mil

$13.6 mil

Ndamukong Suh, MIA


6 Years

$114.375 mil

$59.995 mil

$25.5 mil

$19 mil

Marcell Dareus, BUF


6 Years

$95.1 mil

$60 mil

$42.9 mil


Fletcher Cox, PHI


6 Years

$102.6 mil


$26 mil

$17.1 mil

Yikes. Those are large numbers. But a couple of things to give those numbers context: Dareus is the only true NT of the group, and the only one that plays in a base 3-4 defense like Bob Sutton runs. Cox, McCoy, and Suh are more traditional 4-3 DTs, and while Suh is a monster he's still not a true NT at his listed weight of "only" 307 lbs (Suh and Nacho are roughly the same weight).

It's probably a safe guess that Poe is going to be looking for at least comparable per-year numbers to the top four interior defensive linemen. But that's a pretty wide range of salaries. If the Chiefs can sign him to the lower range (something like $13-15 mil/year) then maybe the Chiefs have a shot at keeping Poe and Berry. But if Poe wants Cox or Suh money, that would make it harder to keep both. The one advantage the Chiefs have in attempting to re-sign Poe is that he has had mostly minor--yet recurring--back issues for several years. He has one back surgery on his medical history already, and sat out some time this year due to his back issues. That may drive Poe's eventual price tag down far enough to make it reasonable to re-sign him. At only 26, it might be worth it for the Chiefs to give him a 5 or 6 year deal, and trade lower annual salary for more guaranteed years or the converse (higher annual value for fewer years and less guaranteed overall money). I'd be comfortable giving Poe similar money to Dareus.

Eric Berry

As far as EB29, he is possibly even less replaceable than Poe. No one questions his abilities on the field. It's not an exaggeration that he's one of the best two or three safeties in the NFL. He's a ball hawk with excellent return skills:
He has always been strong against the run:
But more recently he has developed into a very good one-on-one cover man:
And can make plays that no other safety in the league can make:
Berry is the complete package. The hangup with re-signing Berry is how much money it is going to cost. The Chiefs and Berry not being able to come to a long-term agreement this last summer was significant because it appears that Berry isn't willing to give the Chiefs a hometown discount. (Nor should he, NFL players' careers are incredibly short, and due to the CBA contracts aren't fully guaranteed. Players should absolutely look out for number 1 in contract negotiations.)

So what kind of contract will Berry be looking for? Berry's comps--the current four highest paid safeties--give some slightly more palatable numbers than Poe:


Year Signed


Total Value


Signing Bonus

Average Annual Salary

Kim Chancellor, SEA


4 Years

$28 mil

$17 mil

$5 mil

$7 mil

Earl Thomas, SEA


4 Years

$40 mil

$27.725 mil

$9.5 mil

$10 mil

Harrison Smith, MIN


5 Years

$51.25 mil

$15.278 mil

$10 mil

$10.25 mil

Tyrann Mathieu, AZ


5 Years

$62.5 mil

$21.25 mil

$15.5 mil

$12.5 mil

Realistically, the question Dorsey is facing is whether he is prepared to make Berry the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Obviously I was not in on the negotiations and don't know what the hangups were this summer, but I don't imagine he's going to take anything less than $12 mil/year.

So now that we have some extremely rough numbers the question becomes...

If the Chiefs can only keep one, who does Dorsey keep?

Taking everything into account--comparable salaries, injury history, on-field contributions, off-field/locker room dynamics, position scarcity relative to talent--I still would go with Berry. But again, it's not an easy decision.

With Derrick Johnson rupturing his Achilles (and possibly ending his career, though-not-if-DJ-has-anything-to-say-about-it), I think you have to keep the guy who is the absolute heart and sole of this team. Berry is one of the two or three bast safeties in the NFL, and is a absolute game-changer. If he's going to ask to be the highest paid safety in the NFL (something like $13 mil/year) that's still on the low end of what the highest paid interior defensive linemen get. Berry is an elite talent, not just relative to other safeties but across the NFL. Poe is very, very good, and possibly even great, but I don't know if he's elite.

Also, Poe's back worries me. He's a 350lbs man with one back surgery already and has missed time (albeit only a few games) in multiple seasons due to his back issues. If another team is willing to give him $100+ million, the Chiefs are probably better off letting that team assume his long-term health risks. Bob Sutton and Britt Reid have done an excellent job coaching up D-linemen, and that was on display against both the Falcons and the Raiders. Poe is a unique specimen in the NFL: no one else has his blend of size, strength, athleticism, agility, and stamina. However, the NFL and college ranks are populated with really large, strong men. I trust Dorsey's ability to find another behemoth that's roughly equivalent to Poe's size and strength, and then for Britt Reid and Bob Sutton to coach him up.

If Dorsey let's Poe walk, the Chiefs can likely replace roughly 60% or more of what Poe brings to the table for pennies versus what they would pay Poe to stay. I'm simply not convinced they could find another safety that even comes close to approximating what Berry does for this team, both as a player and leader.

But is there a way to keep them both?

The short answer is...maybe. The long answer is a very complicated game of "which key player would you rather lose?" A disclaimer before I dive into the numbers: I am in no way an expert on the NFL salary cap. But the n umbers below should be roughly accurate thanks to Over The Cap's salary tools.

The NFL salary cap is expected to rise to $166 million next season, up from $158 million this season. (The actual salary cap figure will be slightly different, but barring unforeseen events, it will not be drastically different.) The Chiefs currently have $167,497,345 in salary commitments on the books for next season, and have several ways to create more cap space, either by cutting players or restructuring their contracts. Here are some of the top candidates Dorsey should consider when thinking about cutting players to making more cap room:


Cap Hit


Dead Money

Cap Savings

Nick Foles

$10.75 mil



$10.75 mil

Jamaal Charles

$7 mil



$7 mil

Jeremy Maclin

$12.4 mil


$7.2 mil

$5.2 mil

Jeremy Maclin

$12.4 mil

Cut (June 1)

$2.4 mil

$10 mil

Jaye Howard

$6.5 mil


$2.5 mil

$4 mil

Dustin Colquitt

$4.9 mil



$4.1 mil

Jah Reid

$3.625 mil


$1.55 mil

$2.075 mil

Demetrius Harris

$1.45 mil



$1.05 mil

(Note: the Chiefs could also potentially restructure DJ and Allen Bailey's contracts if they chose. I have no idea how restructuring works in regards to future salary cap obligations, but it's worth noting that if Dorsey restructured both contracts, it appears it could save approximately an additional $4.2 million for next year. Due to my limited knowledge of the NFL's CBA, I don't know if the extra $4.2 mil in savings next year would be worth it.)

The first, and most obvious, move for Dorsey will be to cut Nick Foles. Foles' contract is fully un-guaranteed, and it would be ridiculous to pay your starter and backup QBs a combined $27.5 million. So Foles is gone. After that, it becomes a question of value. Jah Reid and Jaye Howard are JAGs (Just A Guy), and going into next year I'd like to see Chris Jones take all of Howard's snaps anyway. Reid is fine, but decent backup O-linemen are a dime a dozen. I'm fully confident Dorsey could find another mid-to-late round O-lineman like Parker Ehinger (4th) and LDT (6th) to be a swing tackle.

The hard decisions are going to revolve around Charles, Maclin, and Colquitt. As of today, there really are no right answers. Colquitt is an excellent punter (for his most recent masterpiece, he downed all five punts against the Raiders inside the 20), but is it really worth paying a punter nearly $5 million? Can't the Chiefs get 80-90% of his production at a fraction of the cost?

Recent rushing performances aside, the emergence of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick "The Charknado" West over the the past two seasons have shown that the Chiefs can survive without their best offensive player. The history of football has proven that running backs just aren't worth big money. Charles is coming off multiple surgeries stemming from his second ACL tear, and we don't know if he's going to be able to be the same player again. Given how tight the Chiefs' salary cap situation is going to be, being able to free up $7 milion with no dead weight is significant.

Similarly, Travis Kelce has been playing the best football of his career since Maclin went down against the Jaguars, putting up an NFL record-tying 4 straight games of 100+ receiving yards. In that same time, Tyreek Hill has emerged as a legitimate receiving weapon and jet sweep threat as a WR. Add in Conley's potential and big-play ability (really gotta get the man some more targets), and the Chiefs may not need Maclin to be the legit No. 1 WR Dorsey signed him to be. Is it really worth paying your number 2 or 3 receiving target $12 mil/year?

Let me be clear: I'm not saying the Chiefs should cut any of those three guys. My point is that Dorsey has some very significant decisions to make come March about a number of key players no the roster. Here are the three different levels of cuts Dorsey could make to clear up cap room:

Cut Foles, Colquitt, Howard, Reid, and Harris. Cutting those five would put the Chiefs' salary cap number at $145.5 mil, giving them $20.5 million in cap space to sign either Berry or Poe, their own draft pics, and a minor free agent or two.

Cut 1, plus Jamaal Charles. That brings the Chiefs to $138.5 in total salaries, with $27.5 million in cap space. Assuming Berry signs for roughly $13 mil/year, and Poe for $15 mil/year (assuming a slight discount to mitigate his health risks), that almost gives the Chiefs enough to re-sign just those two players, but not their draft picks nor any additional free agents.

Cut 2, plus Jeremy Maclin. If the Chiefs cut Maclin before June 1, that would give them $33 million in cap space. If they cut him after June 1 (when, as I understand the post-June 1 cut rule, they are allowed to space his dead money out over two years instead of one), that would give them an additional $10 million in cap space, bringing their room under the cap to $37.5 million. Under either scenario they would likely have enough room to sign both Berry and Poe, all of their draft pics, and possibly a minor free agent or two for depth.

Remember, they could potentially (emphasis on potentially) free up an additional $4.2 million under any of those scenarios by restructuring both DJ and Allen Bailey.

How this all plays out over the next six months depends largely on how guys perform for the rest of the season. If Hill and Kelce continue to put up big numbers, and Maclin underperforms relative to what we've come to expect from him, then I think Dorsey would have to seriously consider cutting him. It will also be important to see how Charles plays if (huge if) he is able to return for the playoffs. If he elevates the Chiefs' running game then the Chiefs should probably keep him. However, if he struggles again, or is unable to come back at all, then he too might be cut.

Ultimately, Dorsey is not going to have any easy decisions this offseason. But one thing is certain: at least one or two key players from this year's squad will not be back next year.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.