Michael Pierce

Vikings’ Michael Pierce Suffers Injury

Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce suffered a calf injury while working out this week (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). He could miss the start of training camp, but doctors believe that he’ll be good to go for the season opener.

The Vikings inked Pierce a three-year, $27MM deal last March. Then he opted out, so they haven’t seen him in live action.

In 2019, his last time out on the field, Pierce logged 35 tackles (two for loss) in 14 starts for the Ravens. Previous to that, he graded as one of the top interior defenders in football in 2017 and ’18, per Pro Football Focus. The advanced metrics pegged him as a middle-of-the-pack defender in his contract year, but he still managed a decently-sized deal in free agency — a pandemic-altered offseason no less.

Barring any setbacks, Pierce projects to start at nose tackle with Dalvin Thompson, Danielle Hunter, and Stephen Weatherly joining him up front. Of course, the recently-signed Sheldon Richardson also figures to get into the mix.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman: Kirk Cousins Is Our Quarterback, We Anticipate Having Danielle Hunter

The Vikings were a big disappointment in 2020, sparking some murmurs that the team could potentially look to move on from Kirk Cousins. Mike Zimmer tried to nip that in the bud about a month ago, and now Minnesota GM Rick Spielman is coming down emphatically.

Kirk Cousins is our quarterback,” Spielman said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around out there, but Kirk Cousins is our quarterback. We felt that he played very well, probably the best that he’s ever played down that stretch last year. Kirk is our quarterback going forward, and I look forward to him (having) another year in this system.”

Some people connecting dots have floated the 49ers as a potential landing spot due to Cousins’ history with Kyle Shanahan, but that sounds exceedingly unlikely. Cousins signed an extension around this time last year that has him wrapped up through the 2022 season. Assuming Cousins is on the roster past March 19th, his 2022 salary of $35MM becomes guaranteed, so they won’t be able to just dump him after this season if he doesn’t perform.

Spielman also provided an update on star pass-rusher Danielle Hunter. There had been a report last year that Hunter would look for a trade if Minnesota didn’t adjust his contract, but Spielman said he hasn’t heard anything about a possible trade demand.

Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019, didn’t play at all last year due to a herniated disk in his neck. Spielman said his rehab has gone well, “he looks in great shape,’’ and that “we anticipate him being here.’’

He also said the team anticipates having defensive tackle Michael Pierce back in the fold in 2021. Pierce signed a three-year, $27MM deal with the team last March, but then opted out of the season due to COVID-19.

2020 NFL Opt Out Tracker

Per an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, players with COVID-19 health concerns can opt out of the 2020 season. Initially, the deadline was believed to be Tuesday, August 4. Talks between the league and the union have pushed it to August 6.

Chiefs guard and medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to officially opt out. Scores of players followed.

Here’s the rundown, so far:

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • T Brad Seaton

Tennessee Titans

  • OL Anthony McKinney

Washington Football Team

Free agents

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Vikings’ Michael Pierce Opts Out

Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce is opting out of the 2020 season, according to Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). the Vikings signed Pierce in March to shore up their defensive front – without him, they’re left thin on the interior with weeks to go before the start of the season.

Pierce inked a three-year, $27MM deal to help replace Linval Joseph, following his departure to the Chargers. The 6-foot, 340-pound defensive lineman was slated to start, but he’ll sit out the year after assessing the risk. Pierce has a history of respiratory trouble, meaning that the coronavirus could put him in serious jeopardy.

In 2019, with the Ravens, Pierce logged 35 tackles (two for loss) in 14 starts. Previous to that, Pierce graded as one of the top interior defenders in football in 2017 and ’18, per Pro Football Focus, before dipping to a middle-of-the-pack spot in his contract year.

Pierce is just the latest NFL notable to opt out of the upcoming season. The full and ever-growing list can be found here, on PFR’s 2020 NFL Opt Out Tracker.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Vikings, DT Michael Pierce Agree On Deal

6:05pm: The deal is done, and it’s a nice one for the four-year veteran. Pierce agreed to a three-year, $27MM contract with the Vikings, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The 27-year-old defender will receive $18MM guaranteed, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

5:47pm: With longtime Vikings defensive tackle starter Linval Joseph bound for Los Angeles, the team appears close to bringing in a big-name replacement.

The Vikings are close to a deal with former Ravens D-lineman Michael Pierce, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets. The sides are discussing a three-year contract, per Anderson.

Minnesota has retooled considerably in recent days, moving on from some key starters. Pierce would represent a solid first-stringer to come in and fill Joseph’s spot. Pierce graded as one of the top interior defenders in football in 2017 and ’18, per Pro Football Focus, before dipping to a middle-of-the-pack spot in his contract year.

The 6-foot, 340-pound defensive lineman recorded 35 tackles (two for loss) last season in 14 starts. The Ravens, however, have made changes up front as well. They’ve added Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers, almost certainly signaling a lucrative Pierce contract is off the table.

Starter Shamar Stephen, fourth-year cog Jaleel Johnson and third-year player Jalyn Holmes remain under contract with the Vikings, so it will be interesting to see what the team pays for Pierce. The mammoth lineman had a conditioning issue that prevented him from early work at Ravens minicamp last year. The former UDFA rebounded in time for the regular season, however, and resides as one of the top defensive linemen left on the market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ravens Notes: Carr, Skura, Pierce

Here’s a look at the Ravens as they get set for the offseason ahead:

  • Ravens defensive back Brandon Carr told reporters that the “ball is in [the Ravens’] court” when asked about his future (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley). Carr, 34 in May, is under contact for 2020, but the Ravens can create $6MM by releasing him. For his part, Carr wants to return – he called the 2019 season one of the “best rides” of his 12-year career. Carr has not missed a single game since 2008 and has started in every appearance. The durable veteran finished out 2019 with two sacks, 49 tackles, and six passes defensed.
  • Ravens center Matt Skura, who is on crutches after knee surgery, said there is no timetable on his return (Twitter link via Hensley). After tearing his his ACL, PCL and MCL, he hopes to be back for training camp.
  • Interior defensive lineman Michael Pierce is headed towards unrestricted free agency, but he hopes to return to the Ravens in 2020 (Twitter link via Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic). Pierce, 27, is due for a raise after starting in 14 games for Baltimore in 2019.

Ravens Sign Justin Ellis, Domata Peko

The Ravens have signed veteran defensive tackle Justin Ellis, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Ellis was a regular member of the Raiders’ D-line since Oakland selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and he even landed a three-year, $15MM contract with the Silver-and-Black in March 2018. But his 2018 season was marred by injury, and he was released with an injury settlement in October.

And while Baltimore scored its fifth straight win on Sunday, its defensive front was noticeably shaky, perhaps because starting DT Michael Pierce played just three snaps. Pierce exited the game against the Bengals with an ankle injury, and head coach John Harbaugh said that an MRI didn’t reveal any long-term concerns. But as Jeff Zrebic of The Athletic writes, Harbaugh was non-committal as to whether Pierce would be available for this Sunday’s crucial matchup with the Texans, instead calling Pierce’s status “day-to-day.”

In addition to Ellis, the Ravens are adding another free agent DT, Domata Peko, as Zrebiec tweets. The Ravens, who are intimately familiar with the long-time Bengal’s work, attempted to sign him earlier this season, but the two sides were unable to agree on terms at the time. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports that Baltimore will pay Peko $1MM for the remainder of the season (Twitter link).

Neither Ellis nor Peko are likely to create much of a pass rush in the interior of the line — which Baltimore could really use — but like the Ravens’ earlier additions of linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, both are experienced veterans who understand their assignments and who should, if nothing else, solidify the run defense. That will be essential given Pierce’s uncertain health and the fact that the Ravens are putting rookie DT Daylon Mack on injured reserve, per Zrebiec.

Baltimore, at 7-2 and in first place in AFC North, is doing everything it can to keep the second-place Steelers at bay while pushing for a postseason bye. Zrebiec says the club is expected to add rookie CB Iman Marshall to the active roster this week, and given that the Ravens’ kickoff and punt coverage teams have been uncharacteristically unsteady, Marshall may be asked to bolster those units.

In a corresponding move, the Ravens have waived return man Cyrus Jones, per Zrebiec. Jones muffed a punt in the team’s win over the Patriots in Week 9, and Baltimore signed De’Anthony Thomas shortly thereafter. Thomas operated as the kickoff and punt returner on Sunday and will presumably remain in that role moving forward.

The team also waived DE Ufomba Kamalu, per Zrebiec.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Bengals, Green, Ravens

Here’s a look at the AFC North:

  • Tyler Boyd‘s new extension will impact the ongoing extension talks between the Bengals and A.J. Green, as The Athletic’s Jay Morrison writes. Still, for what it’s worth, director of player personnel Duke Tobin says that they are separate matters. “It’s not an either/or. It’s a both,” Tobin said. “And we’ll see where we can go with the other. We would like to retain both of them, and we will work to do that and see what we can get done as we go here. It’s nice when you are not the only good receiver on a football team, it helps you. Tyler has been great in that he’s really versatile for us, and he can play a number of different positions. They are different-style guys for our game, and they complement each other well. So whether (Boyd’s) No. 1 or No. 2 or whatever, he’s a good football player and he’s been rewarded for that.”
  • Good news for the Ravens. According to the transactions wire, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Daylon Mack and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson have all passed their physicals. This means that they’re off the non-football injury list and available to practice when things get underway on Thursday. It should be noted that their NFI designation was different from the one that would have automatically ruled them out for a portion of the year, but it’s still a promising sign for the defense.
  • The Browns met with the agent for disgruntled running back Duke Johnson this week.

AFC Notes: Gordon, Colts, Ravens

The Patriots retained Josh Gordon‘s rights on via RFA tender, and the suspended wide receiver was spotted training with Tom Brady fairly recently. This does not mean the Patriots expect to have Gordon back. One of modern NFL history’s most unavailable players, Gordon is not in the Pats’ plans at this point, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted during a WEEI radio interview (via NBC Sports Boston). While the defending Super Bowl champions would welcome the 28-year-old talent back if he proved to be a “better version of himself” off the field than what showed up in New England last year, Rapoport adds he isn’t certain Gordon will receive another chance or if the mercurial standout would capitalize on it at this point. The Patriots made several receiver moves this offseason, drafting N’Keal Harry in Round 1 and signing Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris.

As the final offseason weekend (for several teams) progresses, here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Deviating from their long-held ways in free agency, the Packers splurged on a pair of pass rushers this offseason in bringing in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The latter Smith was on the Colts‘ radar. Despite holding the most cap space in the league entering free agency, the Colts let the market’s top pass rushers sign elsewhere before agreeing to terms with Chiefs cap casualty Justin Houston. But Chris Ballard targeted Preston Smith at free agency’s outset, Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star notes. Green Bay landed the former Washington edge player for four years and $52MM (just $16MM guaranteed). Houston, 30, nearly matched the 26-year-old’s guarantee figure, with $15.5MM, on his two-year, $23MM accord.
  • Michael Pierce‘s offseason downtrend continued Saturday when the Ravens placed the nose tackle on their active/NFI list. In addition to the contract-year interior lineman starting camp with that designation, the Ravens placed offensive lineman Alex Lewis on their active/PUP list, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic tweets. Pierce, who skipped Ravens OTAs after not signing his RFA tender until June, was overweight to the point of needing to be yanked from practice at minicamp. Lewis underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Both starters can be removed from these lists and return to practice at any point during camp.
  • Broncos GM John Elway does not have near-future retirement plans, but the ninth-year executive is approaching his career year-by-year at this point.

AFC Notes: Hill, Funchess, Ravens, Jets

In May, Roger Goodell said the NFL would not interfere with the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ Tyreek Hill investigation, indicating the league would interview the Chiefs wide receiver “whenever we have permission to.” It is unclear if the Kansas DCF’s investigation has concluded, but if it has not, the news about NFL investigators meeting with Hill represents a reversal and, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, perhaps an acknowledgement by the league something needs to transpire on this front by the time the Chiefs report to training camp July 23. While the investigation is likely covering the bruises and welts that appeared on the body of Hill’s 3-year-old son, Florio notes Hill’s history of violence, and the comment his fiance needing to worry about more possible violence, will almost certainly result in a Hill suspension. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was suspended four games in 2018 for threatening and the mother of his child and “engaging in emotional abuse.” With audio evidence having surfaced in this case, and Hill not being punished for his admitted 2014 violence against Crystal Espinal, that would seem to be the baseline for his potential punishment.

Here is the latest out of the AFC:

  • John Harbaugh has committed to Patrick Onwuasor returning as a starting linebacker for a revamped Ravens defense, but the 12th-year HC has not made a decision on C.J. Mosley‘s successor. While former UDFA Chris Board has impressed, Harbaugh indicated a committee is the likely post-Mosley plan. Harbaugh said (via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com) Board will probably join 2018 fourth-rounder Kenny Young and hybrid safety Anthony Levine alongside Onwuasor in sub-packages. Young led the trio with 381 linebacker snaps last season; Board played just 21.
  • Onwuasor may be the best bet for the young defender who signs a Ravens extension, per Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic (subscription required). With emerging sack artist Matt Judon perhaps in line to continue a trend of edge rushers pricing themselves out of Baltimore and nose tackle Michael Pierce coming to Ravens minicamp at least 25 pounds overweight, in Zreibec’s view, the Ravens preventing their top inside linebacker from following Mosley out of Maryland seems logical. A former UDFA, Onwuasor has started 26 games. He graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 40 linebacker last season.
  • Devin Funchess has put together an inconsistent career thus far and went through most of the Colts‘ offseason program without working with Andrew Luck, who was sidelined with a strained calf. But Frank Reich said (via Kevin Bowen of 107.5 The Fan) he is “very encouraged” by Funchess’ route-running, for a player his size, and his overall progress in his system. Reich lobbied early for Funchess in March, and the former Panthers target will almost certainly play a big role for the Colts this season.
  • Another AFC free agent signing, Brian Poole, looks aimed toward a big role in his first AFC season. The Jets have used the former Falcons slot cornerback both inside and outside this offseason, Brian Costello of the New York Post notes. Gang Green did not bring in a proven outside starter opposite Trumaine Johnson, and Morris Claiborne remains a free agent. While another corner will have to step up to join the duo in nickel sets, Poole appears set for a steady gig in New York.