KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs had to release one of the greatest players in franchise history so they could retain the heart and soul of their defense and solidify the future of their offensive line.
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The Chiefs parted ways with four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles on Tuesday, clearing more than $6 million in salary cap space by drawing the curtain on an unforgettable era. And that money was put to quick use as the Chiefs finalized a $78 million, six-year deal with All-Pro safety Eric Berry and signed offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a $41.25 million, five-year contract extension.
The flurry of roster moves also gives Kansas City flexibility to use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe. That decision must be made by Wednesday or Poe will become a free agent.
“I have a great deal of admiration for Jamaal Charles, his toughness and what he’s been able to achieve in his time in Kansas City,” general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy, but we felt it was in the best interests of the club to move on at this time.
“We wish Jamaal and his family the best of luck in their next step.”
While the Chiefs could try to sign him to a cheaper, incentive-laden contract, a person familiar with Charles’ thinking said there is “no chance” he will play in Kansas City next season. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss such details.
Charles hopes to sign somewhere where he can compete for a starting job.
“I’ve been privileged to work with a lot of talented players over the years and Jamaal Charles ranks up there with the great ones,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I appreciate the way he came to work every day. He gave us everything he had day in and day out.”
The announcement that Charles had been released came a few hours after news surfaced that Berry was nearing a long-term deal with Kansas City that would make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals had set the benchmark after signing a $62.5 million, five-year deal with $40 million guaranteed. Berry is also getting $40 million guaranteed, a person familiar with the terms told the AP on condition of anonymity because the contract had not been signed.
Berry has insisted all offseason that he would not play another season under the franchise tag.
“Eric Berry was the heartbeat of our team and it was that way the past couple of years,” Reid said during the 101 Awards on Sunday, when Berry received the team’s MVP award for last season.
“He represents everything the team is about,” Reid said.
Berry has been a mainstay in the Chiefs’ defense since his rookie year (2010), when he made 87 tackles and had four interceptions in earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Berry tore the ACL in his left knee and missed most of the following season, but returned to his leadership position in the Kansas City defense.
Berry’s comeback ability was put to the test three years ago when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He went through several rounds of brutal chemotherapy near his home in Atlanta, was deemed cancer-free the following summer, and made it back on the practice field in time for training camp.
The Chiefs tried to sign Berry to an extension last season but never came close to an agreement, ultimately giving him the franchise tag. Berry responded to the one-year deal worth more than $10 million by having one of his best seasons, making 77 tackles and four interceptions with two touchdowns.
“We feel he’s a big part of the team,” Reid said last month. “You just have to wait those things out and see how it goes. That’s one of those things that’s going to take time to see how it rolls.”
The Chiefs and Duvernay-Tardif agreed to his deal late Monday, a contract that keeps the former sixth-round pick off the free-agent market next season. It also made the 200th overall selection out of Canada’s McGill University one of the NFL’s highest-paid offensive guards with $20 million guaranteed.
Few knew much about Duvernay-Tardif because of his background, but the 6-foot-5, 320-pound medical student impressed Kansas City scouts before the 2014 draft with his raw athletic ability. Duvernay-Tardif got up to speed quickly enough that he soon earned his way into the starting lineup.
He’s made 27 starts the past three seasons, helping the Chiefs win the AFC West last season.
“Laurent has grown significantly in his three years as a professional,” Dorsey said. “He brings a lot of mental and physical toughness to the position, and last season he was able to become a key contributor to our offense. Laurent has a bright future here.”