Three Takeaways From The Vikings' Acquisition of Michael Pierce
The Vikings made their first major player acquisition of the offseason on Wednesday when they signed nose tackle Michael Pierce to a three-year, $27 million deal. The former Baltimore Raven is one of the league's better run-stoppers and will slide right into Linval Joseph's vacated role. Here are three takeaways from the move.
Eric Kendricks is a big winner in this deal
Spending $9 million annually on a new nose tackle may seem like a questionable allocation of resources for a team with little salary cap space, considering the Vikings need offensive linemen, defensive backs, and wide receivers in the worst way. But in Mike Zimmer's 4-3 defense, a space-eating nose tackle is key to making everything else happen. Specifically, it's important for the Vikings' linebacker group, headlined by 2019 First-Team All-Pro Eric Kendricks.
As the Vikings' middle linebacker, Kendricks excels both in pass coverage and while playing downhill against the run. The latter is where this signing is crucial. The 6-foot, 340-pound Pierce commands double-teams with his size and strength, which will free up Kendricks to make plays. Joseph played a big role in Kendricks' success, and that's why the Vikings prioritized finding someone who can replicate or exceed what Joseph brought to the defense over the last few years. Kendricks should have no trouble securing his fifth straight 100-tackle season with Pierce commanding significant attention in front of him.
The Vikings should complement Pierce with an upgrade at three-technique
Pierce has been one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the league during his four-year career. He's got great power and leverage, and is able to get off of blocks and move laterally to make plays. But he's not going to bring much in the way of pass-rushing production. He has just 3.5 career sacks, with two of those coming in his rookie year in 2016. Joseph had three sacks in 2019 alone, and has had at least three sacks in six of the last eight years. Pierce should post similar pressure rates to what Joseph provided the last couple seasons, but unless defensive line coaches Andre Patterson and Imarjaye Albury unlock something new, he's not going to replicate the interior pass-rush Joseph was known for in his younger days.
As a result, the Vikings would be smart to complement Pierce by making an upgrade at the three-technique tackle spot next to him. That role was filled by Shamar Stephen in 2019, and he was extremely underwhelming, with just two pressures in nearly 600 snaps. The Vikings could use someone like their 2018 starter, Sheldon Richardson, who posted 25 pressures and 4.5 sacks in his lone season in Minnesota. Whether that's an in-house player like Jaleel Johnson or Armon Watts, or a rookie like Ross Blacklock or Neville Gallimore, the Vikings need to find someone who can create pressure from the interior. A defensive tackle pairing of Pierce and Stephen would make it too easy for opposing quarterbacks to step up in the pocket and evade the Vikings' edge rushers.
Pierce is going to be a fan favorite in Minnesota
As the Vikings' only acquisition of the week, Pierce has had the spotlight on social media. He's leaned into that by interacting with Vikings fans and expressing his excitement to come to Minnesota. He's also embracing the culture; Pierce has pledged to try ice fishing and is learning about Jucy Lucys, hotdish, and lutefisk. As a result, the man nicknamed "The Juggernaut" is already becoming a fan favorite.
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