Minnesota Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce has opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pierce, 27, who played for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019 and was poised to replace Linval Joseph in the Vikings defense, told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday that he is opting out because he suffers from asthma and has had pneumonia in the past three years.
“If I caught (the coronavirus), I probably would be in some real trouble,” said Pierce, who was the Vikings’ biggest offseason signing, securing a three-year, $27 million contract in March. “If I were to get sick, any time you’re talking about a fatality or ending up in the hospital for months, that’s not really a good decision (to play).”
Pierce, who is a high-risk opt out under NFL rules, can receive a $350,000 stipend and his contract will toll. NFL players who aren’t considered high risk can opt out and have their contracts toll and receive $150,000 but must pay the money back next year.
“It’s not about the money,” Pierce, who uses an inhaler for his asthma, told the Pioneer Press. “If I was a normal human being with a normal functioning respiratory system, I’d be out there without a thought. It’s an unfortunate situation but it’s something I’ve been battling and I got to deal with the rest of my life. So, hopefully we get a vaccine or something where I can get back out here this spring. But as of right now, it’s not going to be possible.”
According to the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson, Pierce opting out creates $3 million in cap space this season.
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Pierce Took Time In Consideration
Pierce flew to the Twin Cities on Monday from his home in Mobile, Ala., with the idea he probably was going to opt out, according to the Pioneer Press. He spoke with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and team doctors on the phone and said “they understood.” The team had access to his medical records and had known for a while he might opt out but Pierce waited until the NFL finalized its rules during the pandemic, per the Pioneer Press.
Here’s a clip of Pierce speaking with KSTP’s Darren Wolfson:
.@DWolfsonKSTP chatted with #Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce (@mikepierce_97) about his decision to opt-out of playing the 2020 season. Here's a snippet from their conversation: pic.twitter.com/N7g3BrTcy5
— KSTPSports (@KSTPSports) July 29, 2020
The fifth-year defensive tackle was one of the few safe bets to take over at his position among a large turnover on the Vikings defense, which parted ways with five starters this offseason. Joseph and Everson Griffen were both released this offseason and were team captains, along with the departure of cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander.
Question Marks on the Vikings Defensive Line
With Pierce gone, the Vikings are without a vital piece in stopping the opposition’s run game.
“Zimmer’s entire defensive scheme only works with a dominant [nose tackle],” former Vikings offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles tweeted in March. “That’s just a fact.”
Pierce was considered an upgrade to an aging Joseph, but now the Vikings will likely roll with Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts, or Jaleel Johnson at nose tackle. There is added cap space without Pierce’s contract, as the Vikings could go searching for another free agent.
Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.