KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs hit the practice field Monday for the first time with the anchor of their secondary, safety Eric Berry, who joined the team Sunday after signing his one-year franchise contract tender.
Head coach Andy Reid leads the group of Chiefs happy to have Berry back in the fold.
“It’s good to have him back,” Reid said. “He’s got a smile on his face and he’s ready to go.”
Berry held out of training camp after he and the team were unable to come to terms on a long-term contract. The Chiefs placed the franchise designation on the free agent and tendered him the mandated $10.8 million one-year contract offer. Now the work begins to get the Pro Bowl safety ready for the season-opener versus San Diego Sept. 11.
“He’s in great shape, but it’s just getting him into football shape,” Reid said.
The Chiefs have only two days of practice this week preparing for Thursday night’s preseason finale against Green Bay at Arrowhead Stadium. Reid called it unlikely that Berry plays in the final tune-up game.
“I’d probably lean against playing him Thursday and just give him time within practice to get himself ready for the opener,” Reid said.
Both sides had until July 22 to come to terms on a new long term deal, but once the deadline passed the only option for Berry to play in 2016 was in signing the one-year tender. Berry and the Chiefs can negotiate again following the season, or the Chiefs could franchise tag the veteran once again.
Berry has been out of sight but far from out of mind for the Chiefs throughout training camp and the preseason. Team CEO Clark Hunt said Friday he was hopeful for Berry’s imminent return.
“We’re looking forward to having him back with the team,” Hunt said. “He’s a very important part of the team, a tremendous leader both on and off the field, and we look forward to getting him here and getting him going.”
Teammates such as cornerback Marcus Peters have left little doubt they missed Berry’s leadership from the playing field to the meeting rooms.
“It’s Eric’s room,” Peters said last week. “We’re missing him right now. We want him back ASAP, but we can’t do anything about it. But we for sure miss him.”
Berry also ranked a favorite with fans since the Chiefs selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft. But his endearment to fans took to a new level following his diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014.
After missing of the season and undergoing cancer treatments, Berry returned with a Pro Bowl season in 2015. He gathered 61 tackles along with two interceptions and 10 passes defended en route to earning first-team All-Pro honors from The Associated Press and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award from the Pro Football Writers of America.
The Chiefs saw no new additions to the injury list after Saturday’s game against Chicago, according to Reid. Center Mitch Morse developed flu-like symptoms before the game and did not play but is expected to return this week.
The only injured players Reid expects to hold from practice Monday are linebackers Justin Houston (knee) and Josh Mauga (groin) along with fullback Trey Millard (knee). Reid has no new update to when Houston may return to action.
“When you’re around him, he gives you confidence that he’s going to be ready to go this year, but we’ll see how it all works out,” Reid said. “I’m going to listen to the doctors and the trainers and Justin, and see how things work out.”