Defensive tackle Michael Pierce is back with the Minnesota Vikings after opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 28-year old said Wednesday that sitting out the season gave him a glimpse of what retirement would be like, and it's an eventuality he wasn't ready to experience.
"There were, for sure, many times where I would say 'Dang, I could've been out there,'" Pierce, via The Associated Press. "A hundred and ten percent I felt like, especially as the weeks went on and the NFL got more adept with dealing with the COVID situation, I for sure regretted it to an extent."
Pierce signed a three-year, $27 million contract, including $18 million guaranteed, last offseason. He was supposed to be part of a Vikings defensive line rebuild. His absence was felt on a Minnesota defense that had its worst season under Mike Zimmer.
The defensive tackle said it hurt watching the Vikes defense struggle last year, knowing there were plays he could have made had he not opted out. More than on-field regrets, however, Pierce realized how much he missed the locker room.
"It also just gave me some time to see how much I love the game," Pierce said. "Most vets normally tell you they don't look forward to camp, but I missed practice and just missed the camaraderie and friendship, all those things you hear retired guys talking about. I felt that early. For me, it will make this season and the coming seasons that much more special."
Pierce's opt-out was categorized as high-risk, which entitled him to a $350,000 stipend, a credited season, and his contract tolled. The veteran said he wished his opt-out hadn't had to be declared before the start of training camp.
"I felt rushed, but it's a business, and things have to go on," Pierce said.
After missing 2020, Pierce finally visited the Vikings facility that he'd signed up to play in last year without the standard free-agent tour frills. The veteran said he hasn't decided how much of the voluntary offseason program he will attend after opting out last season.
Pierce, who played four years in Baltimore around 350 pounds, added that he got down to as low as 335 during his season away, cutting out what he called "bad weight."
After getting a glimpse of what retirement could be like, Pierce is ready to ride with his new squad. Finally.
"I've been ready to roll, man," Pierce said, via ESPN's Courtney Cronin. "Hounding on my nutrition, got to know my body from an extended amount of time and trying some different things in my diet. Holistically, I think I became a better player and a person. Obviously, we'll see what the results are on the field. But as far as my body and my mind and everything else, I've grown."