MINNEAPOLIS - Michael Pierce was the free agent splash for the Minnesota Vikings entering the 2020 season. He was going to start at nose tackle, and fill the void left by Linval Joseph.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Months later, citing an asthma condition he’s battled since childhood and uncertainty with the virus, Pierce opted out of the 2020 season. He was at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday, getting a medical evaluation and doing a workout for team trainers and staff. He got the full free agent experience, getting a tour of the facility and meeting everyone in the building that could be there.
Due to COVID restrictions, he never got that chance last year. He was candid with reporters, saying that despite making the best decision for himself to sit out last season, it was tough watching his defensive teammates struggle.
"It gave me a perspective just to be a fan of the game. I’ve been playing this game since I was 4. It was different, I pride myself on being one of the better defensive tackles in this league. I saw a lot of plays that I felt like I could’ve made and helped personally," Pierce said. "There were many times where I was like dang, I could’ve been out there."
He’s dealt with asthma his entire life, and relied on those close to him on his decision to sit out last season. He recalled a bad experience with a flare up at Green Bay in 2017, catching pneumonia and had to battle it for three weeks. He carries an inhaler with him.
"I lost 16 pounds in three or four days, it was a mess," Pierce said.
Pierce said he received his second Phizer COVID-19 vaccine about two weeks ago, and is ready to roll ahead with the 2021 offseason.
So what did he do with his newly-found free time last year? He got a poodle named Princeton. He learned how to play the piano, starting with "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Pierce made sure his nutrition stayed disciplined with a personal chef.
He stayed in shape with his home gym. He did "Squatober," 25 days of heavy squatting and deadlifting. He even did CrossFit for two months to cut some bad weight before getting back into football mode. He weighed in Wednesday at 341 pounds, which he says is just right to play nose tackle. He says it’s the lightest he’s been since his rookie season.
"I’m in great shape," Pierce said.
Pierce viewed 2020 as an early look at retirement. Just like fans, he made himself a game day routine to be ready for noon kickoff on the couch. It included a Peloton ride, time in the sauna, going to church and then getting a meal in before pouring a glass of wine.
"I watched every game, I live-tweeted just like a fan," Pierce said.
He now joins a Vikings’ defense that will look vastly different from the one that struggled most of last season. They struggled to get to the quarterback, and struggled in run defense.
They’ll get Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back healthy. They’ve added Dalvin Tomlinson, Xavier Woods and Patrick Peterson, and Stephen Weatherly is back.
"That’s why I signed here, to play on another great defense and with everybody healthy and the additions we made, we’re going to be really good. The work has to be put in. Once Week 1 hits, we’ll see what the product is," Pierce said.
The NFL’s voluntary offseason workout program is slated to start next Monday. But without an agreement in place between the players and the league on COVID-19 protocols, at least four teams say they’re not reporting. Pierce said he’ll wait to see what his teammates decide.
When he gets the call, he says he’s ready to roll.