How will the Minnesota Vikings replace Michael Pierce in 2020?
The NFL is being considerably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as players around the league are choosing to opt-out of the 2020 season.
For the Minnesota Vikings, one of the team’s highest-profile 2020 offseason pickups is opting out of the season as a potentially high-risk case, and that player is defensive lineman Michael Pierce.
Pierce signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Vikings in the 2020 offseason after the team decided to move on from veteran Linval Joseph on the interior defensive line.
The loss of Joseph combined now with the loss of Pierce is significant for the Vikings, especially from a run defense perspective.
According to Spotrac, it looks like Pierce will receive the $2 million prorated portion of his signing bonus in 2020 with the Vikings, but the rest of his contract will toll to future years and the Vikings will still have him for three years starting in 2021 if they so choose.
Pierce has somewhat of a history as a pro player with concerns over his conditioning and weight, in particular. As an interior defensive lineman, Pierce is obviously going to have to maintain a high weight throughout the season, but when he showed up to Ravens camp in 2019, they actually sent him home to drop some weight before training camp.
According to ESPN, Pierce at one point weighed 390 pounds.
Pierce is listed at 6-feet tall, so to be nearly 400 pounds is a significant issue. He dropped the weight, and is currently listed as 6-feet, 340 pounds.
The NFL.com list of players who have opted out of the 2020 season lists Pierce as a “high-risk” opt-out.
So what are the Vikings going to do here? In addition to having to monitor Pierce’s conditioning over the course of the next year, they are going to have to replace his on-field impact, or at least what they thought they were going to get.
Jaleel Johnson to the rescue?
Former Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson seemed like a steal for the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Johnson was productive throughout his Iowa career, but he really came into his own as a senior with 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2016.
After a slow start to his NFL career with the Vikings, Johnson got some opportunities in the 2019 season and rewarded the Vikings’ patience in him with a career-high 29 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and five quarterback hits in his third NFL season.
The Vikings have lost plenty on their defensive line heading into the 2020 season, so not having Pierce around almost feels like par for the course.
Johnson is a young player entering a contract year who could really help himself and the Vikings with a big 2020 season.
The Vikings could also look to a veteran addition still out on the free agent market in Damon “Snacks” Harrison.
Although Harrison would seemingly be a lateral move for the Vikings from Linval Joseph, they weren’t planning on missing Pierce for the 2020 season so circumstances have changed.
There are options out there for Minnesota, but it’s always preferable to find solutions from inside your own organization and Jaleel Johnson can provide that.