Former Ravens defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who signed a three-year deal worth a reported $27 million with $18 million guaranteed with the Minnesota Vikings, says even though he and the Ravens tried to hammer out an extension last spring, by the end of the 2019 season he knew he’d likely depart in free agency.
Pierce said in January that signing with the Ravens would be a “dream come true,” but the writing was on the wall that Pierce would depart when Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta swung a trade for Calais Campbell and signed Michael Brockers to beef up the defensive line.
“Mr. DeCosta was up front and honest with us from the get-go. If they could make it work with the money they were trying to spend on the position, they would, but it just didn’t work out,” Pierce said on Glenn Clark Radio March 19. “Obviously, this is a business. They’ve been nothing but good to me, especially coming in as an undrafted free agent. I have nothing but great things to say, but I kind of knew it, and then toward the end of the year I knew it.”
Pierce, 27, is leaving a Ravens team that went 14-2 in 2019, earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the first time in team history. He expects their success to continue, especially with the additions of Campbell and Brockers. Williams will move back to his natural position of nose guard in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense, a spot Pierce held in 2019.
“Brandon was kind of playing out of position so we both could play at the same time. I think he’ll have an amazing year being back at nose,” Pierce said. “Just seeing the moves that they made with Calais and Michael Brockers, they’re loaded. I talked to [defensive line coach] Joe Cullen [March 18]. They’re in great hands.”
Pierce was signed by Baltimore as an undrafted free agent out of FCS Samford in 2016 and quickly became a key run stuffer for the Ravens. He totaled 151 tackles (13 for loss) and forced four fumbles from 2016-2019, with 2018 representing his breakout season.
Pierce recalled facing a tall task in camp in 2016 with names ahead of him on the depth chart like Williams, Lawrence Guy, Timmy Jernigan and Brent Urban. Williams had established himself as one of the top interior defenders in the league. Guy ended up signing a four-year, $20 million deal with the New England Patriots in 2017. The Ravens drafted Jernigan (second round) and Urban (fourth round) in 2014.
Pierce wasn’t even the lone newcomer to the defensive line; the Ravens drafted Bronson Kaufusi (third round) and Willie Henry (fourth round) in 2016, too. But Piece secured his spot on the 53-man roster with a big performance in the team’s fourth preseason game. Current defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, who was the linebackers coach at the time, said Pierce “wrecked that game” to earn his way on the team.
When asked if he would’ve believed back in 2016 that he’d be signing a big contract four years later, Pierce said he wouldn’t have even believed he made the roster.
“I knew we had a really, really great group of guys, so it was going to be hard for me to make my way on that team, even on the practice squad,” Pierce said. “I definitely wouldn’t have believed you, but the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
The 6-foot, 340-pound Pierce played all 16 games in 2016, posting 35 tackles and two sacks, and his productivity on the field might have had something to do with his comfort off of it. Pierce, a native of Daphne, Ala., actually had extended family in the Baltimore area that he could lean on. Two of his aunts (and their families) live in the area. About 10 family members live near Baltimore, according to Pierce.
“They are not too far from Owings Mills, so I got to see them pretty frequently,” Pierce said. “They got to come to games. My little cousins grew up Ravens fans, obviously, but never got to come to the games. For me to be able to do that for them and them being proud to have a family member on the team was huge. They mean the world to me, man. They’re a reason why I had success so fast because I had never lived outside the state of Alabama except maybe for a year. Just being around them and getting that family feeling, that definitely led to my success.”
Of course, no amount of family locally could save Pierce from his “welcome to the NFL” moment as a rookie in training camp in 2016. Pierce explained that Williams had a baby before the Ravens’ first preseason game in 2016 and was away from the team with his son for a few days. That meant someone had to fill in for him at practice.
Pierce said he played well in that preseason game — a win against the Carolina Panthers — and the coaches threw him into a double-team drill against newly retired Marshal Yanda and Austin Howard, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound tackle. It did not go well for Pierce.
“I found myself getting bumped down the line to three technique and not being very familiar with how the technique works and just trying to muscle it,” Pierce recalled. “If you know Marshal Yanda, that is the worst thing you can possibly ever think to do. You don’t try to out-muscle that guy. My technique was terrible and I take very, very, very much pride in not being pancaked up until that point. I found myself looking up at the sky.”
Yanda made sure to build back up the rookie’s confidence after taking him to school.
“The crazy thing about it was Marshal enjoys his job so much, he laughed and said, ‘Welcome to the league, rookie. You’re going to have a great career,'” Pierce said. “At that time, I couldn’t believe it. He was right, but he surely taught me a lesson: technique over raw ability each and every day. That’s one thing he was blessed with: raw ability, raw strength, raw power, but that dude is a technician to the core. That’s why he’ll get that gold jacket soon.”
Pierce also discussed some of his other memories with the Ravens and more …
On learning how to watch film from Terrell Suggs and Lawrence Guy:
“By the time Wednesday comes, [Suggs] knows who exactly he’s playing against, what they like to do, what he plans on doing. By the time we walk on the practice field, he’s already a step ahead of most people who are just doing the bare minimum. I learned so much from Sizz, man. It’d take me an hour to explain everything. He was just so far ahead of where I thought I was being prepared, just doing what Coach asked me to do. He was 10 steps ahead of me by the time I got to the meeting on Wednesday. He had asked me three questions about a center and I only knew the answer to one or two — and that’s from me actually doing exactly what the coach told me to do. … Obviously everybody’s not blessed with Hall of Fame talent, but the more you know the better you’ll play and it’ll make everything so, so much easier. I thank him and Lawrence Guy for mentoring me in that way.”
On the relationships he built with the Ravens:
“You never know with free agency. I made sure I spent some time with my guys. Our D-line was close. We all went out to dinner, as we do every year. We just kind of celebrated each other and appreciated each other, man. You spend so much time with those guys, you get to know their families and stuff. It was good to see those guys. I’ll be friends with those dudes and obviously the coaching staff as well for life, man. I definitely made sure I spent time with those guys just in case things didn’t go the way we all wanted them to go.”
On the kind of community work he plans to do with the help of his new contract:
“There’s definitely a lot of things I would love to do in my community at home, the guys in my high school and just around the state. Especially being with the Ravens, they’re so community-driven and you make so many connections — obviously with a lot of media members. There are a lot of things I want to do that aren’t particularly for my family. I’ve been blessed to come from a really good home. My parents make great money for the things that they do. Obviously, I’m going to do something nice for them, something nice for my little brother and my community at home. That’s something I definitely took from the Ravens: You’ve got to reach out to your community and touch the people in need. That’s something I appreciate about sports in general. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of good things, starting my own foundation and starting to make my imprint on people.”
For more from Pierce, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox