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Brett Veach talks releasing Eric Berry and Justin Houston and trading Dee Ford

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The Chiefs general manager spoke with the media in a conference call, and we have the highlights.

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Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach took a few minutes out of his crazy day on Thursday to speak to the press about the moves the Chiefs have made in free agency to this point, as well as others that might be coming.

We gave you his opening statement in an earlier article. Here — as promised — we delve into the questions and answers with the reporters. Here are the highlights:

Veach said that moving on from players like Justin Houston, Eric Berry and Dee Ford was part of a strategy that’s been in place since he became general manager.

“Listen, looking both now and into the future, we’ve got a lot of great young talent,” he said. “We have guys like Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill. One of the things we made a strong effort [to do] when I took over was to make sure that we had good young talent in the pipeline, but [that] we’re also cap-flexible and had draft capital. The cap is part of these decisions — where we were, and what was going to be utilized in regard [to] cap space and how we [could] maneuver ourselves to potentially do long-term extensions with our players.”

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Specifically about Berry’s release, Veach said that it helped to have Tyrann Mathieu locked up first.

“With the first part with Tyrann [done], it certainly made a difference,” he said. “When you go into free agency and you target a player when the negotiating window starts on Monday, you’re always cautiously optimistic. Tyrann was the guy that we identified. He had a unique skill set and it was a unique safety class in free agency. There were a lot of safeties out there, but I don’t think there are many safeties out there that can really do everything on the field: call the show, run everything back there, play down in the box, play slot, blitz off the edge, play centerfield.

“So when you get a guy like that, guys like that aren’t cheap. You have to make a financial commitment to those guys, so once you get a guy like that, it certainly expedites your process on other players on the team and your decision you make on those players.”

Veach was asked if they had come close to making a trade deal for Houston.

“There was dialogue, and I mentioned that at the Combine. I’m sure Justin will be signed here soon, and he’ll do well for himself. He’s certainly a guy that can be added to a number of teams and make an impact.”

Veach said releasing Houston and Berry — and trading Ford — wasn’t about their ability to play.

“Certainly, all these guys could help us,” Veach responded when asked if the three players could have helped the team. “It’s the balancing act of where we are now and what we can supplement. Again, you go back to the [first-round pick] and two [second-round] picks this year and a [first-round pick] and two [second-round] picks next year. [We’re] just being real: the cap is an issue. So you have to take that into consideration.

“You look at, ‘Can they help us at the cost of what it would take to do that?’” he continued. “Knowing that contracts and extensions are looming behind here, what can we do now to put ourselves in a good position not just for next year, but for the next three-four-five-six years? So you go back to where we’ll be both in draft capital and cap space.

“I think this was a decision that when we got together, this put us in a really good position in regard to potential extensions coming up, and put us in a position to maneuver around the draft and potentially do things outside [the draft] from now until the start of the season.”

Veach said the conversations with Houston and Berry were difficult.

“They’re never easy,” Veach said, adding that he would prefer not to discuss the specific details of those conversations. “Needless to say, the way we felt about both of those individuals — and even though we knew what we had to do as the organization — it did not make it easy. It was something that was very tough to do. And usually the right decisions are the toughest decisions. We did that. Again, can’t say enough great things about those two guys. Those two players will always have a special place in our hearts here and in the community.”

Veach thinks Breeland Speaks will be able to shoulder more of the load in 2019 and beyond.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“Breeland was a guy that coming here last year from Ole Miss, we lined up at the outside linebacker position, and we thought that moving forward with Breeland, he would be able to get us some reps there and potentially transition to a five-technique,” Veach explained. “Now looking ahead with a 4-3 scheme, he’s probably a natural fit as a base end. So we’re excited about him. Really, when he got in there in that four- or five-game span when Justin Houston went down, the guy put on some good tape at a position I’d say he wasn’t most comfortable with. But I think he still had some good logs, good playtime, and flashed a little. He certainly didn’t look out of place. Now having the full offseason in a scheme more conducive to his skillset, I think he should really be able to take the next step.”

Veach also revealed that Speaks was a player that New England was targeting in the 2018 draft.

“[Chiefs defensive line coach] Brendan Daly did a lot of work with Breeland coming out of college when he was in New England,” Veach said. “When I was touching base with Brendan his first week here, we obviously right away started talking about defensive line and what we had there. He kind of said the same thing: that Breeland was a guy that they were really high on in New England, and probably had we not taken him and if he was still around, New England was going to take him. We knew that Brendan certainly saw the fit right away for New England. and knowing that he’ll be the defensive line coach with Coach Spagnuolo calling the shots, it’s something we’re looking forward to.”

Veach said finding pass rushers was a priority for the team.

“Absolutely. We’re not done,” he said. “This was one part to get flexibility and get ammunition to do things that we want to do. Again — I keep going back to it — there’s a long time before the season starts here. It’s one thing if the season were kicking off Sunday, that’s a very valid question with pass rush and some more defensive help, corners, this and that. If the season started Sunday, that would be one thing.

“But until September you talk about a big window here before the draft, the draft, after the draft, and even during the start of training camp. There are things that can happen. None of those things, though, and moves cannot be made unless you have space and draft capital. That’s kind of the position we’re in now.”

Responding to another question, Veach said there would be plenty of defensive talent in the draft.

“I will say one thing and it’s kind of been noted out there the last few weeks — especially at the Combine: this is a good defensive draft class,” he said. “There’s defensive line depth there. It’s been talked about, and it’s real. There’s a lot of intriguing players up there.”

Still, Veach appeared to say that the Chiefs would also be looking in free agency.

“When you make a financial commitment long-term, you just have to make sure with the scheme you’re running everything makes sense,” he said. “When you do identify an ideal 4-3 pass rusher, you get him. Just making sure that you have the right pieces in place for the long-term is something that we’re going to be aggressively pursuing.”

Veach expressed confidence in the team’s existing safeties.

Armani Watts was a guy that came on toward the end of camp,” Veach said. “He started to log more and more play time. He certainly had his best game [against] Jacksonville before getting hurt. And then Jordan Lucas was a guy that infused some excitement and some energy in the middle of the season. We certainly like his skillset. And then [Daniel] Sorensen — we missed Dan. He got hurt early in preseason when he fractured the knee cap. We missed him for the first half of the season. I think he was out eight weeks. He is healthy now coming back.”

Veach said there will be a change in culture on defense.

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“I’ll say this, there will be a change, but this is a new defensive staff and some guys are younger guys, some guys that are coming back are older,” he said. “When the players report officially, everyone is on the same page. This is a brand-new playbook. This is a brand-new scheme. It’s not like whoever we add in free agency or the draft is coming into a scheme and coming into a locker room where players have been running something for years and years and years and they are trying to fit in and do different things.

“I know Steve Spagnuolo is excited to get all the players here and introducing them to the playbook and starting from page one. The one unique aspect is when you add a rookie this year — or even a guy like Tyrann Mathieu — they are all starting on the same chapter to begin this process with this staff. They are excited about that. I think Ty is going to be a game changer, too, in regard to him as a person. I don’t want to keep going back to Ty, but he is an instant energy and juice guy.”