Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce has decided to opt out of the 2020 season because of respiratory concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. Pierce signed a three-year, $27 million free agent contract with Minnesota in March after nose tackle Linval Joseph was released.
Pierce joins a growing list of players who are deciding to not play this season. Bears defensive lineman Eddie Goldman also reportedly is planning to opt out because of health concerns related to COVID-19.
Pierce was the Vikings’ most significant addition in free agency. The 27-year-old spent his first four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and started 30 of the 60 games in which he played. Pierce is listed at 6 feet, 340 pounds and was signed to anchor the middle of the defensive line. He has been especially effective against the run.
Pierce, who suffers from asthma, told the Pioneer Press: “If I caught (the coronavirus), I probably would be in some real trouble. 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.”
Pierce’s contract will toll for the season, meaning his $3 million base salary for 2020 will now become his 2021 salary. He also will get a $350,000 stipend by opting out because he is in the high-risk category.
Jaleel Johnson, a fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2017 out of Iowa, is listed behind Pierce at nose tackle on Minnesota’s depth chart. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer also could look to Armon Watts to play alongside 3-technique Shamar Stephen. Watts, listed at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, was a sixth-round pick by the Vikings from Arkansas in 2019. He had 1.5 sacks, one pass break up and a forced fumbles in seven games and one start as a rookie.
Players with COVID-19 health concerns have until Aug. 4 (next Tuesday) to formally opt out for the 2020 season.