Vikings continue defensive line shuffle by cutting Pierce

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The Minnesota Vikings kept up their defensive line shuffle by finalizing the release of nose tackle Michael Pierce on Tuesday for salary cap savings ahead of free agency.

The seventh-year veteran played in only eight games for the team.

The move will save more than $6.2 million on Minnesota’s cap number. Pierce will leave a $4 million charge in dead money for the remaining prorated portion of the bonus he signed for in March 2020.

The Vikings also reached a contract agreement late on Monday, according to multiple reports, with free agent and former Buffalo defensive tackle Harrison Phillips in a swap of run stoppers. Phillips will enter his fifth NFL season.

Pierce opted out of his first year with the Vikings due to COVID-19 concerns related to his chronic asthma, so his contract rolled over to 2021. The 6-foot, 340-pound Pierce played well when he was available, with three sacks in eight games while playing roughly half of the snaps.

He suffered a triceps muscle tear in practice and tried to play through it against Cleveland on Oct. 3, but he aggravated the injury and wound up missing the next seven games. Pierce also was sidelined for the final two games with an illness.

Minnesota’s biggest-money addition in free agency last season was defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who solidified the 3-technique position that had long been in flux. But a team that has had so many strong defensive lines over the years has seen this critical group suddenly dry up.

FILE – Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph, center, celebrates with teammates after kicking a 29-yard field goal on the final play of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 34-31. In a deal announced Monday, March 14, 2022, the Vikings tendered a contract offer to restricted free agent kicker Joseph.
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)

New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s system uses some 3-4 alignments, but regardless of the role of the defensive end — in the new scheme or the old one under former head coach Mike Zimmer — the Vikings badly need some pass-rushing help.

Danielle Hunter still profiles as a standout at age 27, but due to two fluke injuries he has played in only seven of 33 games over the last two years. He has an $18 million roster bonus due Sunday, a deal that appears bound for renegotiation.

Everson Griffen will become a free agent, with his playing future unclear. D.J. Wonnum, who had eight sacks last season, is the only other pass rusher with significant experience currently on the roster.

Outside linebacker Anthony Barr is Minnesota’s highest-profile player eligible to become an unrestricted free agent when the market formally opens for signings and trades on Wednesday afternoon. The Vikings have so far worked out a one-year extension with quarterback Kirk Cousins to lower his salary cap hit by $14 million, and extended a one-year contract offer to restricted free agent kicker Greg Joseph that gives them the right to match any offer he were to get from another club.