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Eric Berry avoids franchise tag as Chiefs make him the NFL’s highest-paid safety

Berry and the Chiefs made a deal happen before Wednesday’s franchise tag deadline.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Berry and the Kansas City Chiefs finalized a six-year deal that makes him the highest-paid safety ever, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The five-time Pro Bowler said on NFL Network earlier in February that he "definitely" wasn't going to play under the franchise tag in 2017, even though he wants to finish his career in Kansas City. Now, it looks like that’s not a concern.

"I want to play there. I love the city, I love the vibe, I love my teammates," Berry said. "I really look at them more than teammates. We’ve been through a lot. They supported me a lot, and that organization. But I don’t feel comfortable playing under a franchise tag this year."

With his six-year, $78 million contract, Berry now becomes the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Last year, Berry was paid $10.8 million under the franchise tag — good for second in the league, behind Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose $62.5 million deal pays him $12.5 million per year. Berry’s deal makes him the richest safety in the NFL, earning $13 million per year.

Rounding out the top five highest-paid safeties are Harrison Smith ($10.25 mil/year), Earl Thomas ($10 mil/year), and Devin McCourty ($9.5 mil/year).

Earlier this month, Chiefs general manger John Dorsey told Arrowhead Pride that the team had "very positive conversations" with Berry’s representatives about contract talks.

Berry’s agent, Chad Speck, had a slightly different take, though. He responded, "I wouldn't characterize it as 'positive' -- but we are talking. We've got a long ways to go."

Fortunately, the two sides eventually agreed on a deal before the tag came into play again.

Berry has been through a lot with the Chiefs. Last in 2014, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had to miss the rest of the season to receive treatment.

In July 2015, the Chiefs announced on Twitter that their star safety was cancer-free and has been cleared to resume activities. Later that year, he earned the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award.

"[Berry] is without question one of the backbones of our defense and a team leader. He’s a special player and an exceptional human being," head coach Andy Reid said when the team announced the extension.

Last August, Berry signed a franchise tender and had a great season in 2016. The 28-year-old racked up 77 tackles and four interceptions, including two pick-sixes. He was also selected to his fifth career Pro Bowl.

One of Berry’s pick-sixes happened in the Chiefs’ victory against the Atlanta Falcons. Berry intercepted the pass at Atlanta’s 40-yard line, sprinted toward the sidelines, turned up the field, and ran for the touchdown.

He was also responsible for the game-winning score with a rare pick-two. It was a special day for Berry, who grew up in Atlanta and underwent cancer treatment there as well.

Since Kansas City drafted Berry in 2010, he has been a model of consistency in the defensive backfield. Berry has put up 430 tackles and 14 intersections in seven years with the Chiefs. A long-term deal wasn’t reached last offseason, but he finally got it this season.