Vikings Cut Top-20 Starting Veteran Defensive Lineman: Report

Michael Pierce, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Michael Pierce #58 of the Minnesota Vikings sacks Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime at Paul Brown Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings made the first of what could be many salary cap-creating moves with the free agency window opening this week.

Late Monday night 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.”

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Pierce signed a three-year deal with Minnesota in the 2020 offseason as the replacement to Linval Joseph. However, in the past two seasons, Pierce played just eight games over after struggling with injury in 2021 and opting out of the 2020 season during the peak of the pandemic.

The Vikings cleared $6.23 million of cap space by cutting Pierce, per OverTheCap.

Pierce Declined Pay Cut

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.

Pierce tore his tricep in October 2021 amid a slow start to the season for the Vikings. 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.

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Vikings Replace Pierce With Bills Lineman

A sign of Pierce’s coming release came when Mike Garafolo reported that Minnesota was singing former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips.

“#Vikings are signing DT Harrison Phillips to a three-year, $19.5 million deal, source says. Popular #Bills lineman headed to Minnesota,” Garafolo reported.

Phillips signing will be made official on March 16, when the league year officially starts. Phillips has been touted as a high-character player and run-stuffer who has recently emerged to his potential in the last year of his rookie contract.

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.

“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.

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