Eric Berry: 5 best fits in NFL free agency

Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry has no intentions of signing the franchise tag. Here are five landing spots for the All-Pro safety in 2017 free agency.

Strong safety Eric Berry has been one of the best defensive backs in the NFL since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2010 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. Berry is a five-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and the winner of the 2015 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

While he probably loves playing a prominent role in a ferocious Kansas City defense, Berry has no intentions of getting slapped with the franchise tag again. Even after arguably his best season as a professional in 2015, Berry eventually had to sign the 2016 franchise tag worth $10.8 million to re-up with the Chiefs for one year.

Berry could in theory re-sign with the Chiefs for one more year on the franchise tag, worth a projected $11 million in 2017. Given that he is in his money-making prime, here are the five teams that Berry could land with in 2017 NFL free agency.

5

Carolina Panthers

NFC, South

Not only would Berry leave Kansas City for more money, he may want to play closer to his native Atlanta when he picks a team in 2017 NFL free agency. While he may want to go to his hometown team in the Atlanta Falcons, the Falcons already have their strong safety position figured out with 2016 first-round pick Keanu Neal.

Though they did lose defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to the Buffalo Bills head coaching gig, the Carolina Panthers could be one of the teams that has the best chance to land Berry in 2017 NFL free agency.

Carolina had the fourth-worst passing defense in the NFL in 2016, surrendering 4,216 yards through the air. The Panthers had major issues in the back-end of their defense all of last season. They really missed their All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who signed with the Washington Redskins.

Berry could come in to Charlotte and transform a middling Carolina secondary. Not only will the Panthers be picking in the top 10 in the 2017 NFL Draft, but the Panthers are in great position with the salary cap to land lucrative talent.

The Panthers will have a projected $50,628,149 to work with this spring. Should they spend the bulk of their available capital on its rookie class and other young players, the Panthers could be in the market to pay Berry at or above market value.

Jan 9, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Eric Berry (29) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 9, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Eric Berry (29) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC, South

There is another NFC South city that both needs help in the secondary and has the necessary salary cap space to land a top-tier free agent: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay will have a projected $73,268,361 of cap space. The Buccaneers had 11th worst pass defense in 2016.

Tampa Bay is historically an aggressive franchise in NFL free agency. Historically, the Buccaneers do a fine job of drafting and developing talent on the defensive side of the ball. However, they are led by a franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston and an offensive-minded head coach in Dirk Koetter.

Fortunately for the Buccaneers, they have an overqualified defensive coordinator in Mike Smith for another season. Smith has to be on the shortlist of head coaching candidates for the 2018 cycle. He is the winningest head coach in Falcons history.

Berry could come into Tampa Bay, revamp an inconsistent secondary, and help push the Buccaneers towards their first playoff berth in nearly a decade. Tampa Bay would be a strong landing spot for Berry in 2017.

However, how good is signing with the Buccaneers long-term for Berry? Tampa Bay should be able to contend for the NFC Playoffs in the coming years, but are the Buccaneers going to be contending for Super Bowls before Berry exits his prime? It’s a high-risk, high-reward type of gamble for Berry to sign with the Buccaneers.

Jan 9, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Eric Berry (29) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 9, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Eric Berry (29) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

3

Indianapolis Colts

AFC, South

Maybe Berry is fine with staying in the Midwest for the bulk of his NFL playing career? Kansas City has been great for him in his first seven years in the league. However, cap space could be the deciding factor if Berry does have to skip town and sign elsewhere.

One team to keep an eye on in the Berry sweepstakes is the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are a very intriguing landing spot for Berry. They will have a projected $55,880,819 worth of cap space. Indianapolis plays in a winnable AFC South. The Colts also had the sixth-worst pass defense in football last year.

With the Colts, Berry would get to play on a team now being built by former Chiefs front office executive Chris Ballard. That matters in being able to get Berry to leave Kansas City for Indianapolis. Ballard will likely re-build the Colts defense through the draft. However, he has to realize that he probably won’t find a safety the caliber of Berry in the coming years.

So not only does Berry get to reconvene with Ballard in Indianapolis, but he gets to have Andrew Luck as his starting quarterback. There are pieces in place with the Colts that could spark a Super Bowl push in the next few years. Winning the division is paramount, but teams like Houston, Jacksonville, and Tennessee aren’t exactly world-beaters.

While we should expect Indianapolis to be one of the teams lobbying the most for Berry’s services, there are two holdups with him landing with the Colts: 1.) Ownership: can Berry trust Jim Irsay to keep it together through the life of his new Colts’ contract? 2.) Patience: the Colts defense needs to be rebuilt. Does Berry have the patience to see the rebuild on that side of the ball through in Indianapolis?

Oct 25, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 23-13. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 25, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 23-13. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

2

Kansas City Chiefs

AFC, West

Berry may want to play his entire NFL career in Kansas City. However, the NFL is a business and through his elite level of play, Berry is becoming an increasingly expensive asset. He should be the highest paid safety in football, but does Kansas City have the cap space to keep him around for another contract?

2017 NFL free agency is not going to be kind for the Chiefs. They will have only $2,151,147 worth of cap space to navigate pre-NFL Draft. Kansas City has invested a ton in making that defense top-notch. However, it seems almost impossible that Berry and defensive tackle Dontari Poe can both be re-signed by the Chiefs brass this spring.

Perhaps Kansas City has geared up to letting Poe walk over Berry? It would make sense, as the Chiefs have a promising young defensive lineman in Chris Jones in the early stages of his rookie contract. In short, Poe is probably gone, but there are no guarantees that Berry will be back in 2017 for the Chiefs.

Because of their salary cap limitations, the Chiefs may be forced to used the hated franchise tag on its best player again in Berry. He’s worth more than the $11 million he would get on that 2017 franchise tag. Berry probably knows that and that would explain his reluctance to be franchise tagged again.

Most NFL teams wouldn’t break the bank for a safety, but most safeties aren’t Berry. Kansas City will explore several options to try to keep Berry from leaving in free agency. However, if he does re-up, it will be costly for the Chiefs. Berry on a new contract probably two strong players from the 2016 Chiefs will now be playing elsewhere in 2017.

Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

1

Tennessee Titans

AFC, South

Should Berry be unable to re-sign with the Chiefs in 2017 NFL free agency, the best landing spot for him is easily the Tennessee Titans. Berry played his college ball in-state in Knoxville, Nashville is only a five-hour car ride from his native Atlanta, and Berry’s chances of playing in a Super Bowl seem pretty bright in Tennessee.

The Titans have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. His undeniable football talent will attract a ton of people to the Titans organization for the next decade plus. Ownership may be a little bit odd with the Adams Family Trust, but the Titans have a strong general manager in Jon Robinson to build this team around Mariota.

Tennessee had the third-worst pass defense in 2016, but will have over $67,615,138 of cap space to address their issues out on the perimeter. Berry could have the distinct privilege of playing for one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time in Dick LeBeau before he inevitably retires. If Tennessee gets their back-end right, this is a team that could make some noise in the AFC Playoffs.

The AFC South should be an easier route to the AFC Playoffs than what Berry would have to navigate in the AFC West. Jacksonville is still rebuilding and both Houston and Indianapolis are incomplete football teams. Like Kansas City’s arch rival Oakland, Tennessee has the potential to be next AFC power for the next decade plus. It really depends on Mariota’s development and Robinson’s ability to build a great team around him.

Nashville has a huge Rocky Top presence. Moving from Kansas City to Nashville would be sort of a homecoming for Berry. Tennessee seems to be significantly ahead in their rebuild over Indianapolis. If Berry does leave Kansas City, there may not be a better landing sport for him than the Titans.

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