Mike Zimmer sat in the corner of the Indianapolis Convention Center during the NFL scouting combine three weeks ago and answered questions about the possibility of coaching three new starting cornerbacks in 2020.
That reality arrived for the Vikings coach this week.
Mackensie Alexander agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, rejoining Trae Waynes, another Vikings free agent who agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal with the Bengals on Wednesday. The third starting Vikings cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, was released last week and remains a free agent.
The Vikings might still add a bargain-level veteran or two to the secondary this month, but focus now will turn to April’s NFL draft to reload at cornerback.
“We just have to do a good job keeping guys in there and making sure they can play and trying to help them as best we can,” Zimmer said Feb. 26 at the combine. “We’re not going to cry because we don’t have some of those guys.”
Alexander’s relatively affordable deal for the Bengals comes after he ranked 10th among NFL slot defenders allowing an 85.7 passer rating when targeted last season. His growth on and off the field was commended by Zimmer last fall; the 2016 second-round pick out of Clemson arrived confident and said he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a slot cornerback.
But Alexander’s finish in Minnesota was controversial. He was one of a few Vikings starters to play during the meaningless season finale against the Bears, doing so despite being listed as questionable because of a knee injury that required season-ending surgery after the game. That caused him to miss both playoff games.
The Vikings made a contract offer to re-sign Alexander, according to a league source, but the money proposed wasn’t worth a long-term commitment to Alexander.
Signing a short-term contract in Cincinnati gives the 26-year-old another chance to prove his worth during a contract season and potentially cash in next spring — perhaps the Bengals will give him a chance to play outside cornerback and increase his value for 2021. Alexander was medically cleared last month to resume football activities following a January procedure to repair a torn right meniscus.
He had 21 pass deflections and two interceptions in the past three seasons for the Vikings.
With picks No. 22 and No. 25 in the draft, the Vikings’ chances of selecting another first-round cornerback don’t seem far-fetched. The team has seven cornerbacks — Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, Mark Fields, Nate Meadors, Marcus Sayles and Kemon Hall — signed for next season.
Hughes, the 2018 first-round pick, is the most experienced among them with five NFL starts in two seasons. He’s recovering from a broken vertebra in his neck suffered Dec. 29 against the Bears. The young trio of Hughes, Hill and Boyd are developing, according to Zimmer, but it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a major addition coming.
Safety is another shorthanded position as only two — Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris — have deals after Harris was given the franchise tag this week. But the Vikings are reportedly interested in trading Harris for as much as a second-round pick. One potential suitor, the Cleveland Browns, agreed to a free-agent deal with former Raiders safety Karl Joseph on Thursday.
The Vikings will need depth, too, if not a new starter next to Smith.
Safety and valuable special teams contributor Jayron Kearse got a one-year, $2.75 deal with the Detroit Lions, according to NFL Media. Kearse, whose defensive playing time was sporadic, was vocal about his desire to leave the Vikings in free agency and is now scheduled to play them twice next season.
• The Vikings agreed to a three-year contract extension with kicker Dan Bailey on Thursday. Bailey, 32, enjoyed a rebound last season with a 93% conversion rate on field-goal attempts. He and punter/holder Britton Colquitt, who also agreed to a three-year extension this week, will be under contract through the 2022 season.