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Press Box: Ford, Houston and Berry had to go for Chiefs

Press Box: Ford, Houston and Berry had to go for Chiefs

March 24th, 2019 by Tom Rackers in Sports Pro
In this Nov. 19, 2018, file photo, Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford plays against the Rams in Los Angeles.

In this Nov. 19, 2018, file photo, Chiefs...

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

News Tribune sports reporter Tom Rackers

News Tribune sports reporter Tom Rackers

It had to be done.

Dee Ford, gone. Justin Houston, gone. Eric Berry, gone.

Is it understandable Kansas City fans could be puzzled, if not upset, about the decisions that led to three players being no longer on the team? I think so.

Is it addition by subtraction for the Chiefs? Again, I think so.

By any statistical measure, Kansas City had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season. By any reasonable eye test, they were one of the worst. If Kansas City could have gotten the New England offense off the field at Arrowhead Stadium during overtime in the AFC Championship game, I have little doubt the Chiefs would have won the Super Bowl two weeks later.

But it didn't. So here we are with arguably the three biggest names on the defensive side no longer in Kansas City.

Ford may be the most puzzling of the moves.

Ford came to the Chiefs as a No. 1 pick in 2014 out of Clemson. After struggling his first two seasons with 31 total tackles and 5.5 sacks, he led Kansas City with 10 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries in 2016.

Then came 2017, when Ford battled injuries and played in just six games. The talk returned that Ford was a bust.

Instead, Ford blossomed. In 2018, the linebacker proved to be one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, finishing tied for seventh in sacks with 13 and tied for fifth in quarterback hurries with 29. But instead of a new long-term contract, the Chiefs decided to franchise Ford with a one-year deal. The idea could very well have been Ford had to prove he could do it in back-to-back seasons before getting a bigger contract.

Or maybe not. The ink was barely dry on the deal when the No. 23 overall pick in 2014 was dealt to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 second-round pick.

Then there's Houston.

When he's been healthy, Houston was one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. But that's the problem, the 30-year-old hasn't been able to stay healthy.

He did have nine sacks and five forced fumbles last year. But those came in 12 games, meaning he missed a quarter of the regular season due to injuries.

So the Chiefs cut him and the Indianapolis Colts snapped him up last Wednesday with a two-year, $24-million deal.

"I have plenty left in the tank," he said in a story on the Colts website. "And I think some people don't believe that. So it's more so what I'm about to show the world than myself, because I know what I'm capable of."

Finally, there's Berry.

The fifth overall pick in the 2010 season, Berry made his presence felt as a rookie by making the Pro Bowl for the first of five trips to the NFL's all-star game.

In 2014, his season was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis and everyone wondered not if Berry would ever play again but if he was going to survive the life-threatening illness.

But Berry recovered and was more popular than ever among Chiefs fans. Then came the 2017 season, when he missed nearly the entire campaign with a torn Achilles. Last season, it was a heel problem that left him sidelined.

Counting the postseason, Berry has played in just three of Kansas City's last 34 games. Last season, the organization described Berry as being "day-to-day" with the heel injury as he missed the first 14 games.

The Chiefs have replaced Berry with Tyrann Mathieu, who's a little younger and a little cheaper.

Kansas City has the one thing in place you absolutely have to have to win a Super Bowl — an elite quarterback. With Patrick Mahomes behind center, the Chiefs have the core piece of being an annual title contender for years to come.

But after this season, the Chiefs will have to pay Mahomes. And money's the biggest reason Ford, Houston and Berry are gone. Big contracts that eat up the salary cap are a sure way to keep you in the middle of the league.

The Chiefs needed to get their financial house in order to be good for years to come. Getting rid of big contracts on the defensive side was a good start. And the new defense couldn't be any worse.