Less than two weeks after the deadline passed for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams, defensive tackle Michael Pierce has officially inked his second-round tender from the Ravens.
Per Wednesday’s transaction sheet, the fourth-year defensive lineman asked to sign the tender that will pay him $3.095 million for the 2019 season. The move was a formality after no other team signed Pierce to an offer sheet by April 17, but the former undrafted free agent didn’t appear to be in a hurry to sign, a common occurrence with any restricted free agent seeking a long-term extension.
— Michael Pierce (@mikepierce_97) May 1, 2019
The 340-pound Samford product has emerged as one of the NFL’s better run-stopping nose tackles over his first three seasons, leaving the Ravens with an interesting decision after 2019 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus graded Pierce as the NFL’s fifth-best interior defender in 2018, but he’s played more than 400 snaps in a season only once while serving primarily as a rotation player, making it fair to wonder how he’d perform with a greater workload. With veteran nose tackle Brandon Williams entering only the third season of a five-year, $52.5 million contract, signing Pierce to a long-term deal while keeping Williams appears implausible. Invited to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, Williams graded 33rd among qualified interior defenders last season, according to PFF.
Releasing Williams after the 2019 season would result in $4.33 million in savings and $9.84 million in dead money on the 2020 salary cap.
There’s also the question of whether committing lucrative money to a run-stopping defensive tackle is the best investment with many having criticized the return on the Williams deal. Pierce’s PFF pass-rushing grade was higher than any other incumbent interior lineman on the roster, but he’s registered just three sacks in his 46 career games. The 26-year-old stated a desire to improve his pass-rush ability at the end of last season, one in which he didn’t record a sack in 14 contests.
“I need to get some more sacks — well, a sack to start with,” said Pierce as he laughed. “I think I’ve been stopping the run pretty well; that is something I pride myself on. I got better as a pass rusher [in 2018], but for me to be able to get some sacks would be paramount for this team going forward.”
That improvement would not only be critical for a Baltimore defense needing to replace the pass-rushing ability of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, but it would only drive Pierce’s price up in free agency next offseason.