The Minnesota Vikings are diving into free agency by signing a defensive tackle for a third straight year.
The Vikings signed former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to a three-year, $19.5 million deal, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported on March 14. The signing will become official on March 16.
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Pierce Released After Phillips Signing
After Garafolo’s tweet on March 14, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted, “the #Vikings plan to release DT Michael Pierce, source said. They tried to retain him on a moderate paycut and attempted to trade him. In the end, just some feelers and no trade materialized. Now, released.”
Pierce signed a three-year deal with Minnesota in the 2020 offseason as the replacement to Linval Joseph. However, Pierce played just eight games over in the past two seasons after suffering a torn tricep injury in 2021. He was a high-risk opt out of the 2020 season during the peak of the pandemic due to his sports asthma.
Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson tweeted earlier on March 14 that the Vikings approached Pierce to take a pay cut.
“DT Michael Pierce said by text regarding the #Vikings coming to him about reworking his contract: ‘That is correct and I’ve made decision. You should be hearing the news… soon,'” Tomasson tweeted.
Pierce’s decision was clear with his release, and Tomasson confirmed he declined to take a pay cut later Monday night.
The Vikings cleared $6.23 million of cap space by cutting Pierce, per OverTheCap, which they used the majority of to sign Phillips.
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Phillips to Replace Pierce if He Can Stay Healthy
Returning in Week 13, Pierce turned in a strong performance to finish the season with a 78.5 Pro Football Focus (PFF) defensive grade, the 12th best among defensive interior linemen. However, his injury and asthma diminished his value to the team as the Vikings sought to keep Pierce at a lower rate than the 29-year-old could agree to.
Instead, Minnesota got younger at defensive tackle by signing Phillips, 26, who has his own injury concerns.
A former third-round pick out of Stanford, Phillips, a Nebraska native, spent the past four seasons with the Bills. A rotational player for the first three years of his career, Phillips took a step forward in 2021, starting in eight games. He posted a 77.4 PFF defensive grade that ranks 14th among defensive interior linemen.
Phillips has torn the ACL in his left knee twice, once at Stanford in 2015 and again with the Bills in 2019. Phillips was also playing through a torn PCL in his left knee in 2021, Buffalo News reported.
Nicknamed “Horrible Harry,” Phillips is a heart and hustle player with a high character who worked himself into a starting role despite the injuries.
“Harrison Phillips has been the # Bills’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in each of the past two seasons,” Buffalo News Bills beat reporter Jay Skurski tweeted. “While he’ll be missed on the field for his contributions, his commitment to Western New York as absolutely unmatched during his time here. All the best to him.
Phillips joins a defensive interior linemen core with Dalvin Tomlinson, who was signed last offseason to a two-year deal. Last season, Tomlinson posted a 74.6 PFF defensive grade as the 16th ranked defensive interior lineman. The duo will be tasked with stopping the run primarily in a new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Armon Watts and James Lynch remain as rotational pieces and T.Y. McGill, who was signed earlier this offseason.
However, no lineman has the size Pierce had at 340 pounds in the heart of the Vikings defensive front, which will need drastic improvement after allowing seventh-most rushing yards per game (130.7) last season.