Six years ago, the Vikings opened free agency by signing former Giants nose tackle Linval Joseph, giving themselves the run stopper they badly needed in an effort to remake their defense in Mike Zimmer’s first season.
On Wednesday, the same day Joseph officially left for a new team, the Vikings opened free agency by landing his replacement.
The start of the 2020 league year initiated the next stage of the Vikings’ defensive life cycle, as the team agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with former Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce on the same day Joseph reportedly signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Chargers. The 27-year-old Pierce started 14 games for the Ravens last year, after two impressive seasons as a run stopper in 2017 and 2018.
Pierce played around 340 pounds during those seasons, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh held him out of the team’s minicamp last year when his weight was close to 390. After dropping around 30 pounds in five weeks, Pierce was back on the field during Ravens training camp. He’ll get $18 million in guaranteed money with the Vikings and could earn an additional $1 million in incentives through the course of the deal.
In Minnesota, he’ll be asked to take Joseph’s spot at nose tackle as the Vikings remake a defense that continued its metamorphosis.
In addition to Joseph signing with the Chargers, an NFL source said defensive end Everson Griffen was actively exploring the market as he officially became a free agent Wednesday.
Griffen, who voided the final three years of his contract last month, could still wind up back in Minnesota, but his foray into free agency served as another marker of a changing Vikings core.
From July 2017 through March 2019, the Vikings signed seven players — Griffen, Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs and Anthony Barr — to new contracts as part of a bold strategy to keep their roster, and especially their defense, intact.
With Joseph and Rhodes released last week, Diggs traded on Monday and Griffen hitting the open market Wednesday, only three of the seven players the Vikings had signed (Kendricks, Hunter and Barr) remain on the roster.
It served as a stark reminder of how quickly things change in the NFL, as did the Vikings’ decision to release guard Josh Kline just a year after they made him their most significant free-agent acquisition of 2019.
Kline, who had signed a three-year, $15.5 million deal a year ago, was let go with $1.8 million of his 2020 base salary still guaranteed. An NFL source said the Vikings discussed bringing Kline back on a lower salary, but the two sides couldn’t agree on a number.
Kline could still return to Minnesota on a new deal, but for now, the cap-clearing maneuver saved the Vikings $1.57 million for 2020. It did, however, add another $4.47 million of dead money to the team’s books, running the total north of $22 million for the 2020 league year.
The Vikings also will bring back quarterback Sean Mannion on a one-year deal, according to an NFL source, retaining Kirk Cousins’ primary backup from 2019. Mannion’s only action as a starter came as the Vikings rested most of their first-team offense in Week 17 against the Bears, when they’d already clinched the NFC’s No. 6 seed. The 28-year-old threw for 126 yards and was intercepted twice in the 21-19 loss.
Cousins praised the work Mannion did in quarterback meetings all season, and as an extra pair of eyes on game day. With the decision to bring back Mannion, the Vikings have the same three quarterbacks on the roster they had last season (Cousins, Mannion and Jake Browning).