Is Mike Zimmer to blame for Mackensie Alexander’s departure?

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Mackensie Alexander
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Mackensie Alexander /

The Minnesota Vikings didn’t make a valiant attempt to keep Mackensie Alexander, signaling a possible burning of a bridge.

The Minnesota Vikings lost another member of their secondary on Wednesday as Mackensie Alexander reportedly agreed to sign a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. The move is the latest in a mass exodus for the Vikings as Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes have also departed during the opening days of free agency.

But as the Vikings now sit with just Holton Hill and Mike Hughes as their top cornerbacks, it’s curious to wonder why Minnesota wouldn’t match the deal to re-sign Alexander.

Alexander will make just $4 million with the Bengals next season and even as the cap-strapped Vikings turn over couch cushions to find money, this was a deal that could have gotten done.

Of course, this all could have happened if a bridge had not been potentially burned by Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer.

As Alexander entered the league in 2016, he was a prospect with plenty of question marks. One of the top corners in the nation, he had the peculiar achievement of not recording a single interception during his time at Clemson. While he was fundamentally sound, he still slid down the board until the Vikings selected him in the second round

The slide didn’t affect Alexander’s abundance of confidence, however. he believed he was a starting corner. But Zimmer wanted to use the slow-play route of development that had produced Rhodes and Waynes before him. So Alexander sat behind Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman waiting for his opportunity.

As Munnerlyn moved on and Newman retired, Alexander was the fill-in at slot corner and the results were not promising. In the first six weeks of the 2018 season, Alexander was torched for 2.21 yards per coverage snap and he allowed 19 completions on 22 targets.

With a 108.1 passer rating allowed, things weren’t looking good until he turned the corner in the final 10 weeks. During that timeframe, Alexander became one of the best slot corners in the league, allowing 16 completions on 32 targets, a 59.1 passer rating (third in NFL) and trimming his yards allowed per coverage snap to 0.60 (fourth in NFL).

Alexander’s performance in a rough 2018 season for Minnesota seemed to be the turning point, but 2019 proved to be the end of his relationship with the Vikings. After dislocating his elbow in Week 1, Alexander rushed back in time to for Minnesota’s Week 4 matchup against the Chicago Bears.

While his numbers (37 receptions on 52 targets, 86.2 passer rating, 1.13 yards per snap) weren’t as great as his previous campaign, he was still effective and a critical part of the Vikings defense. Then, Zimmer decided to toss him out for a meaningless Week 17 finale in which he injured his knee.

The decision to play Alexander in that game made sense in a way that you can’t bench everyone. But, in a game that didn’t matter and with Minnesota already having a group of corners that was falling apart, it also seemed reckless. For someone who was heading into free agency, it was the final straw.

Such seems to be a pattern between Zimmer and his cornerbacks. While the Vikings made the decision to let Rhodes (declining) and Waynes (cost too much) leave, it’s fully possible that Alexander made the decision to leave on his own this time around according to KSTP’s Darren Wolfson.

Alexander’s departure is the latest in a line of cornerbacks escaping from Minnesota. This also extended all the way down to defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who departed the Vikings earlier this year and then picked up a job with the Green Bay Packers. It begs the question of if Zimmer is really the problem here and what needs to change moving forward.

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Unfortunately with an old-school coach that will probably mothball Alexander’s drafted replacement, the amount of actual change might not be significant enough.