FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The look on the face of Chiefs safety Eric Berry told the story long before test results confirmed the bad news that the All-Pro defender will miss the rest of the 2017 campaign with a rupture Achilles tendon.
Now the Chiefs and head coach Andy Reid must face move forward without their emotional leader on defense.
“You’re not going to replace Eric Berry with another Eric Berry,” Reid said. “That’s not what happens.”
The safety positioned appeared one of the team’s deepest position groups prior to Berry’s injury. Free safety Ron Parker and hard-hitting backup Daniel Sorensen play critical roles on the defense, and second-year safety Eric Murray is coming off on a strong camp.
Sorensen signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension in the offseason. But Reid explained the team likes Sorensen’s defined role in nickel and dime substitution packages and doesn’t want to stretch him too thin. That likely means more playing time for Murray, a fourth-round selection in last year’s draft.
“It could be him, it could be Sorensen, it could be both of them working it,” Reid said. “We just have to sit back and kind of declare what the role is.”
The Chiefs cut this year’s sixth-round draft pick Leon McQuay following the preseason but signed him to the practice squad. Reid said general manager Brett Veach is also exploring outside alternatives.
“Brett’s keeping his eyes open for things right now, that’s what he does, he’s always on top of that,” Reid said.
“But we’ve obviously got some guys here between Murray and Sorensen that we know can play and we feel very comfortable with,” Reid said.
Berry addressed the team after the game, and Reid said he’s comfortable the loss of one of the team’s emotional cores won’t led to a loss in leadership.
“Most of all the guys know that Eric would be disappointed if they let off the accelerator at all, so I think we’ll be okay there,” Reid said.
The season-ending injury is the latest in roller coaster career that includes five Pro Bowl nods, three first-team All-Pro selections and the NFL’s comeback player of the year award in 2015.
Berry started all 16 games as a rookie in 2010, picking up 72 tackles along with four interceptions. His second-season ended in the first game of the season, however, when he sustained a torn ACL.
He returned in 2012 and picked up second Pro Bowl, then added his first All-Pro honor in 2013.
Berry missed six weeks in the first half of the 2014 season with a high ankle sprain. He returned in week eight, but what happened on Nov. 11, 2014 altered his life dramatically.
The then-25-year-old safety left a game against Oakland Raiders complaining of chest pain. Test results diagnosed Berry with Hodgkin lymphoma.
He underwent chemotherapy to treat the cancer throughout the offseason and was cleared to resume football duties at the beginning of training camp in July 2015.
The Chiefs placed the franchise designation on Berry following the 2015 season. The player and team could not come to an agreement on a contract extension after protracted and messy negotiations. Berry played the season under the franchise tender of $10.8 million.
After back-to-back All-Pro seasons, Berry signed a six-year, $78 million contract in the offseason. The deal includes approximately $40 million in guaranteed money.
Now the Chiefs face another season without a fan favorite and a safety at the top of his profession.
“We know that you’re not going to replace the whole thing, I mean you’re not going to do that,” Reid said. “He’s a unique person and so you’re going to replace him. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fight.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson, who made a triumphant return from his second Achilles tendon rupture in Thursday night’s season opener, said he’s thinking of his teammate.
“I don’t know what’s going on diagnosis-wise with E.B., but I’m praying for him,” Johnson said after the game. “He’s one of the best leaders on the team.”