On March 25, 2020, Michael Pierce signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, a testament to the fact that he had established himself as one of the top nose tackles in the NFL.
Since then, he's played just 11 games.
In 2020, he opted out of playing because of COVID-19 concerns. In 2021, he tore his triceps. After he was released and returned to Baltimore in 2022, Pierce tore his biceps in just the team's third game.
After undergoing season-ending surgery not long after that game in New England, Pierce is now fully healthy and participating in voluntary OTAs. Why? Because he's looking to prove to himself that he can be that guy again.
"I just had a rough two years," Pierce said on "The Lounge" podcast. "It's the 10,000-hour rule. If you miss out on so many things, you can get rusty. For me, it's about resetting myself, being around the team, being around the guys."
Pierce has a different perspective after missing so much time the past three years. As difficult as the physical rehab process was, the mental hurdle was even more challenging, and it's something he's working through in practice.
"I would be lying if I said doubt doesn't creep in," Pierce said. "When you do something for so long, it's like second nature. When you miss 30 games, you're like, 'Dang, can I really do this?'
"Before you can actually put your feet back on the field and get back healthy, you're like, 'I don't know if I'm like I used to be.' For me, it's good to be out here at OTAs. We can't go full speed and stuff, but putting myself in those movements and playing really well throughout these OTAs is very, very important for me."
Pierce is looking fit and ready to go at OTAs. He'll be an integral part of the Ravens' defensive line success this season, especially after the loss of veteran Calais Campbell in free agency. Brandon Williams also wasn't brought back after the 2021 season.
Now Pierce, 30, is one of the oldest players on the team. Defensive end Brent Urban, who was re-signed this year, is 32. They will both step into leadership roles.
"It's my turn to step up and be a leader, vocally, and bring those young guys along," Pierce said.
But more than mentoring other players, Pierce is focused on himself. He sent a text to his teammates last season after his injury, telling them that every game is precious. After so much time watching football on TV instead of playing it, Pierce said he has a "renewed sense of joy" being back on the field.
"I'm just enjoying playing football, enjoying being healthy, and making sure my body is ready to go," Pierce said. "For me, it's just about finishing. I'm not worried about anything other than me completing that goal of finishing all 17 games, playoffs, all that."
Pierce was a monster in training camp last year and got off to a strong start in the first two games with six tackles and very strong grades from Pro Football Focus. Pierce was the third-highest graded defensive tackle in the league in Week 1.
"You guys saw the start that he was off to last year, so it was disappointing to lose him," Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald said. "Having Mike back in the middle of the defense will definitely be a big point of contention for us moving forward. I'm excited to see what he does."