What Would Pioli Do? – Version 3

In our final installment of this year's "What Would Pioli Do?" series, we'll take a look at one last possibility for the Chiefs' first-round selection. This time, we focus on Eric Berry, the safety from Tennessee.



Draft Scenario #3
1) St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

With a pick that's probably a no-brainer at this point, the Rams finally get themselves a quarterback.

2) Detroit Lions - Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Lions take the best player on their board in a continued attempt to improve their defense.

3) Tampa Bay Bucs – Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Some say McCoy is a better fit in the Bucs' defense than Suh.

4) Washington Redskins – Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
The Redskins need to protect their new quarterback, and Okung is their man.

5) Kansas City Chiefs - ?
This time around, the two best players for the Chiefs to consider are the aforementioned Eric Berry and quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

I've covered the quarterback issue in the last two WWPD entries, so there's no point rehashing those details again. Let's put all our focus on Berry, who is now available to the Chiefs for the first time in this series.

The Tennessee safety has been the topic of much discussion over the last few months. Few argue that he's one of the best players in the draft, but the position he plays has caused some to claim that he's not worth taking as high as the draft's fifth pick.

The theory against drafting Berry that's cited most often is the fact that safeties don't represent good value at the top of the draft. As conventional wisdom goes, the players worth drafting high (and thus paying large salaries to) play at positions like quarterback, left tackle, or along the defensive line, particularly the pass rushers.

Frankly, there's no countering that argument. Safety isn't a spot with high positional value. One could certainly make the case that such a viewpoint is outdated, given both the impact top-flight safeties have had on their teams and the advantages that today's NFL gives to offenses. But until things change, people will keep clinging to that opinion.

As it relates to Berry and the Chiefs, however, there's a catch. The positional value argument only holds up if there's someone at one of those high-value positions for the Chiefs to draft instead.

After all, if such a player can't be found, then anyone the team drafts won't have terribly high positional value. And if that's the case, why shouldn't they take Berry, when he'd almost surely be the best player still available?

Let's run down the list of high-value positions and see what we come up with.

Is there a pass rusher to take at #5? The Chiefs don't need another highly-paid defensive end, so we'll look to the outside linebackers. South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul is an intriguing prospect, but since he's valued more on potential than production, he doesn't seem to fit the Pioli mold.

Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan is a highly rated pass rusher, but he seems like a better fit for a 4-3 defense. Opinions on this topic differ, of course, but the same may be true for guys like Michigan's Brandon Graham or USC's Everson Griffen.

Beyond them, the next best option at OLB might be a player like Texas' Sergio Kindle, who many expect to go late in the first round or early in the second. Pioli may have reached on Tyson Jackson last year, but he didn't reach quite that far.

We also can't forget that, despite the reach, Jackson was still the draft's top prospect at the 3-4 DE position. On the other hand, at this point in the OLB analysis, we're talking about using the #5 pick to reach on the third, fourth, or fifth best pass rusher. Pioli has made some curious decisions, but we haven't seen any evidence yet to suggest that he's that crazy.

Regarding the Jackson pick, it's also important to remember who Pioli passed over when he made that selection. Aaron Curry was a strong prospect, but his position as one of the top players in the draft was helped by the weak state of last year's upper-crop of talent. That isn't the case with Berry.

Additionally, inside linebacker is another spot with low positional value, and no one saw Curry as one of those "he only comes along once every few years" types of players that could make Pioli overlook the value aspect. Again, that doesn't hold true for Berry.

So while some say that last year's decision proves Pioli would rather reach on a more important position -- in this case, possibly grabbing one of the pass rushers we've named or a nose tackle like Dan Williams -- it's important to keep in mind that passing on Curry and passing on Berry are not the same thing.

Since there doesn't appear to be a pass rusher that fits, let's move to the offensive line. We've covered this issue ad-nauseum, but the Chiefs don't need to draft a tackle. And if they don't need to draft a tackle, they certainly don't need to draft the second-best tackle, which is what they'd be doing in this particular draft scenario with Okung off the board.

Drafting a lineman is the favorite option of the media because it's easy. It's well-known that Matt Cassel got sacked too much, and they know Pioli puts a premium on the trenches. So they throw a lineman at the Chiefs and then move right along to the next spot on their mock draft.

To make themselves sound smarter, some even come up with stuff like the Pioli/Ferentz connection that will supposedly bring Bryan Bulaga to Kansas City, despite the fact that Pioli has never once drafted a player from Iowa.

They don't care about Branden Albert adjusting to his weight loss. They don't care about the offense drastically changing just before the season began, making Albert learn a glut of new protection schemes practically on the fly. They don't care that, as Todd Haley recently alluded to, Albert also battled some injuries last season. And they don't care that Albert overcame all that to show marked improvement by the end of the year.

But the Chiefs do know those things. And they should know they don't need to take an offensive tackle with the fifth pick in the draft.

That takes us to the quarterbacks. As I mentioned, I've discussed this issue in both of the previous editions, and I think taking a quarterback would be a smart move. If the Chiefs passed on Berry to draft a quarterback, specifically Clausen in this case, I would have no complaints. The quarterback position is far more important than any other, and the Chiefs could be heading right off a cliff if they keep all their eggs in Cassel's basket.

But as I've explained previously, I don't think they'll make that pick.

So we've crossed off quarterback, offensive tackles, and defensive linemen. At the end of the day, there just aren't any glaring "higher positional value" players that make sense for the Chiefs. And anyone else we could name – Rolondo McClain, for example – would be a reach, especially with one of the draft's best players still on the board.

So that opens the door for Berry, right? Well, not so fast, because there's another popular excuse not to draft him so high – all that money he'd be paid.

If the Chiefs give Berry the salary the #5 pick will earn, he'd become the highest paid safety in the league before he played a single down. How is that fair? What happens when they try to re-sign him? He's already making so much money as a rookie, the cost will be prohibitive.

Why, it'd be a disaster of biblical proportions. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

Surely, we all remember when a similar panic spread through the streets a few years ago. In July 2007, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu signed a five-year extension worth $33 million, just over $15 million of which was guaranteed. About a week later, LaRon Landry – the #6 overall pick of the Washington Redskins – signed his rookie deal, a five-year contract worth $41.5 million with $17.5 million guaranteed.

Not only was a rookie like Landry already making more money than Polamalu, he was making more than every other safety – including his own teammate Sean Taylor, who had just come off a Pro Bowl season.

Somehow, though, the Earth kept on spinning. The NFL season wasn't cancelled. A safety got paid big bucks and the league didn't collapse inwards on itself.

Just look at the recent free agency period and the Giants' decision to give a $37 million contract to Antrel Rolle. Is Rolle the best safety in the NFL? Few would make that argument. He's certainly getting paid like it, though.

It's the nature of the beast. The next time a talented safety is on the open market, a team will give him a deal better than Rolle's. As a result, the price tag on safeties will continue to rise.

Just three years after Landry signed his ridiculously high rookie contract, salaries for safeties have grown to the point that someone just signed a comparable contract in free agency. As more teams recognize the increasing importance of the safety position, why should we expect that pattern to change? Berry's contract may look too big for a safety now, but in a few years it could be the going rate in free agency if you want a quality player.

In terms of finances, we also can't forget what Pioli did a year ago by taking Jackson. Pass rushers are a high value position, but 3-4 defensive ends rarely rack up a lot of sacks. The most sacks Richard Seymour has ever had in a single season was 8, and we'll be lucky if Jackson turns out to be 70% of the player Seymour is in any given season.

By taking Jackson with the third pick last year, the Chiefs felt comfortable enough to give him a $57 million contract with $31 million guaranteed. That's the same amount of guaranteed money the Vikings gave Jared Allen -- but as a 3-4 DE, Jackson will never have anywhere near the pass rushing impact that someone like Allen does.

If the Chiefs think that Jackson, who's going to spend his career tying up blockers and maybe getting 4-5 sacks a year, is worth the high salary of a #3 pick, then they would have to be certifiably insane to think a potential game-changer in the secondary wouldn't be worth the price tag at #5.

Ultimately, if the Chiefs start passing on the draft's best players because of financial reasons, they might as well move across the parking lot and start playing their games in Kauffman Stadium. Because there will be no longer be any discernable difference between them and the Royals.

With those two topics in the books, we've covered the two major reasons against drafting Berry. Now let's talk about why the Chiefs should take him.

That he's one of the best players in the draft goes without saying. It's hard to imagine a higher-rated player being available when the Chiefs go on the clock, so he fits the notion of drafting the best player available. He also fills a significant need, as the Chiefs have done nothing at their already-weak safety position this offseason.

Let's get into some specifics, though. One of Berry's key attributes is his versatility -- he was recruited out of high school as a cornerback and lined up at both safety positions and corner while at Tennessee. In other words, he could play anywhere in the secondary if needed.

That's no small detail. As the New England Patriots were winning Super Bowls, the premium they put on versatile defensive players was discussed on an almost constant basis. They liked linebackers who could play inside or outside. They liked pass rushers who were effective standing or with their hand on the ground. And they liked defensive backs who could line up all over the place. Drafting Berry would give Romeo Crennel such a player.

Berry also fits the description of something Pioli specifically said he was looking to add to the team. A lot has been made about the comments Pioli supposedly made to Atlanta G.M. Thomas Dimitroff, but very little has been said about something we actually heard Pioli say when he sat down with KSHB's Jack Harry after the season.

When Harry asked Pioli about his top priority for the offseason, he responded with the following: "Get better talent on the football team, get more playmakers, and win more football games."

It's the one in the middle that's of interest to us. Pioli acknowledged the need to add more playmakers to the team – but have we actually seen it happen yet? They re-signed Chris Chambers, but he was already here. Thomas Jones might have fit in that category a few years ago, but it's a definite stretch to say it at this point.

Despite Pioli outlining it as one of his top priorities, the team has yet to add anyone who fits the description of "playmaker". Meanwhile, if you read the dozens of scouting reports on Berry, it's nearly impossible to avoid running into that word. Berry has also been frequently described as a leader – something else Pioli has been clear about wanting to add to the team.

As both a playmaker and leader, Berry is exactly the type of player the Chiefs need, and exactly the type of player Pioli says they're looking for. Berry plays at a position the team badly needs to upgrade. The Chiefs would be getting one of the best players in the country by drafting him. And to top it all off, none of the arguments against drafting him stand up to scrutiny.

Then factor in the odd little coincidences, like the fact that Berry has been working out with Brandon Flowers, or that Crennel was there to work out the defensive backs at Tennessee's pro day, and the pick should be nothing short of a slam dunk.

Of course, maybe I'm thinking with my heart more than my head. Maybe I refuse to accept that a regime talking about building through the draft will make another cringe-worthy decision with a top-five pick.

Perhaps I just can't wrap my mind around the level of sheer incompetence it would take for the team to pass on a rare player like Berry, pass on a potential franchise quarterback for the second year in a row, and then make another embarrassing first-round selection – like, say, reaching on an offensive lineman because of the college coach he played for.

I might be a simple fool, but if the draft plays out as described up above, I think the Chiefs' pick should be pretty easy.

5) Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

Now there's nothing left except to wait for the draft and see what Pioli will actually do.

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