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Mackensie Alexander back with Minnesota Vikings after one season

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings continued to address their secondary on Friday by bringing back a familiar face.

Mackensie Alexander, who spent the first four seasons of his career in Minnesota after being drafted by the Vikings in 2016, has agreed to terms with his former team, according to a tweet from his agent, Neil Schwartz. Alexander is expected to sign a one-year deal worth the veterans minimum and an undisclosed signing bonus, according to league sources.

Alexander, 27, is the second addition the Vikings made to their secondary since the start of free agency. Fellow cornerback Patrick Peterson signed a one-year contract worth $10 million.

Alexander returns to Minnesota after one season in Cincinnati. A former second-round pick, he started in 10 of his 13 appearances while replacing outgoing free agent Darqueze Dennard as the team’s slot cornerback in defensive packages that included at least five defensive backs during the 2020 season.

His lone interception last season came in the Bengals’ first victory over the rival Steelers since 2015. However, despite a string of solid performances, Alexander didn’t seem to mesh with the Bengals’ coaching staff.

Alexander’s advanced metrics were in the middle of the pack among others who primarily play slot cornerback. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Alexander had a 68.4 completion percentage when he was the nearest defender, which was 2% worse than expected. He also had a 45.6% coverage success rate, which was just under the league average for qualifying slot cornerbacks.

During his first stint in Minnesota, Alexander had 103 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and 21 passes defended and started 10 of 55 games. Though he consistently lined up as an outside corner at Clemson, where he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 29.6 percent of their passes but did not allow a touchdown, Alexander morphed into a slot corner in Minnesota and eventually replaced Terence Newman as the team’s starting nickel corner in 2019.

The addition of Alexander provides the Vikings with flexibility in the secondary. Minnesota has used both Jeff Gladney and Mike Hughes at slot corner and could have a competition at the position along with Alexander. Peterson said earlier this week that “the plan” is for him to play at cornerback in Minnesota in spite of speculation over a potential move for the Pro Bowler to safety. The Vikings still have an opening to fill opposite Harrison Smith at free safety after Anthony Harris signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Alexander made headlines last August when he left Bengals camp to travel to Florida following the disappearance of his father while picking berries with a family friend. Alexander was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge, which was later dismissed, for allegedly hitting the family friend. His father was found alive.

ESPN’s Ben Baby contributed to this report.

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Linebacker Vince Williams, 31, informs Pittsburgh Steelers of his retirement after eight seasons

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PITTSBURGH — On the eve of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first training camp practice, veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams informed the team of his retirement Wednesday.

Williams, 31, played eight seasons with the organization after being selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Williams was initially released by the team in March because of cap constraints, but he was re-signed in April on a one-year veteran minimum deal.

Some of Williams’ teammates on defense, including T.J. Watt and Joe Haden, posted their reactions on social media later Wednesday.

The former Florida State player emerged as a team leader in Pittsburgh and started 69 of 121 career games, racking up 20.5 sacks, 479 combined tackles and 50 tackles for loss.

His role in 2021 was likely to be reduced with the emergence of Robert Spillane, who stepped up last season when former top-10 pick Devin Bush tore his ACL.

Beyond Spillane and Bush, the Steelers will likely look to rookie Buddy Johnson and safety-turned-inside linebacker Marcus Allen for depth at the position — but with a strong camp, a fully healthy Ulysees Gilbert III could also land a roster spot to round out the group.



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Jerry Jones confident Dallas Cowboys’ vaccination percentage ‘will not limit us in any way’

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OXNARD, California — The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp under stricter COVID-19 protocols because they did not reach the 85% vaccination threshold, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he does not believe it will impact the players’ preparedness for the regular season.

“My opinion is it will absolutely will not limit us in any way, the issue of vaccination, will [not] limit us in any way as to being competitive as early as when we play Pittsburgh in the first preseason game,” Jones said Wednesday at the opening news conference of training camp. “When people say, ‘Where do you think you stand right now with vaccine relative to your team and as it pertains — this comes to my mind — the competition,’ and I think we’re one of the leaders.”

Jones indicated as few as five players have not made a pledge to get vaccinated at present, and a portion of players are “in the pipeline” toward becoming fully vaccinated, a number that would help the Cowboys reach the mark.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones noted the four weeks between the first shot and full vaccination for not being able to pinpoint an exact date. With 90 players on the roster, 77 need to be vaccinated to reach the current threshold that would ease COVID-19 restrictions at training camp.

“I don’t know that the 85% has been totally negotiated yet,” Stephen Jones said. “I think it’s a work in progress, but, yes, I do think we’ll hit that threshold and more.”

Stephen Jones credited the players for listening to the information the team made available regarding the vaccine.

“They understand that everybody was recommending the vaccine, in and around the country, but they really did their homework,” he said. “They had a lot of great questions. We provided them with lot of education, a lot about the science, and I think they were able to get their hands around it.”

The Cowboys’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated, according to Jerry Jones, but Mike McCarthy said he told his players he needed some convincing early on before getting the shot.

“Frankly, I shared my own personal experience where the facts that I was not particularly 100 percent on board with the vaccination, but through the relationships that we’re fortunate to have in the medical community, you watch, you listen. I think that same approach was given to our players,” McCarthy said. “We just wanted to make sure they had all the facts … Really, the position of where we were numbers-wise in my opinion was more about timing.”

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin was critical of the Cowboys for not reaching the threshold, questioning their commitment to winning.

“Yeah, and it should upset them,” Irvin said. “It should upset them. Dude, you’re not thinking right. You’re not thinking right. Whatever you got, I don’t give a damn. Nothing else can be more important. You’re not going to get this (winning a Super Bowl) easily. Nothing else could be more important. Jimmy [Johnson] made that abundantly clear (during Irvin’s playing career). Nothing else is more important. And not being one of the [teams] says there’s other things to a great number of people on this team that are more important than winning championships, and that makes me worried.”

Jerry Jones said he understood Irvin’s comments.

“Michael Irvin is the best example that I know of how much will and how much body language and how much of heart and sacrifice mean to winning championships. He is that. So when he talks, I listen. I know that,” Jerry Jones said. “And I think he has a good reputation with the current group of players because of his visibility and his activity with the network where he is as an individual. So he comes with all the credibility in the world. He’s a Hall of Famer and then not only part of — because he’s a talented football player — but a big part of why he got there was that total commitment going above and beyond.

“That’s what he was trying to say. That it isn’t normal things we want from each other as players. We want everything to go above and beyond. And so I thought it was an outstanding message.”

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Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones says he’d ‘do anything’ to make Super Bowl LVI

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OXNARD, Calif. — Over the years, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has not been afraid to talk about Super Bowl dreams before the start of a season. But as the franchise’s championship drought pushes past 25 years, Jones stayed away from making headlines Wednesday.

Still, making it to Super Bowl LVI is at the top of Jones’ mind.

“I’d do anything known to man to get to a Super Bowl,” Jones said. “That’s a fact.”

Jones became emotional at several points of a nearly hour-long news conference, starting with when he was asked how he intends to get the Cowboys back to a time when they won three Super Bowls in a four-year span in the 1990s.

“I’ve always had to be pragmatic at the end of the day because if not, you’ll end up on the outside looking in. You have to be real,” Jones said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never thought that we couldn’t be better or never thought that we couldn’t make it happen, even when we were not on paper or we weren’t as technically as good or sound. But I’ve never thought that, and I’ve got too many examples of how shorthanded people have knocked them out of the park before. A lot of them. In a lot of different areas.

“I really don’t know that I have any days or have any weeks where I don’t think, ‘There’s a pony in here somewhere.’ You have a lot of days where you ask yourself, ‘What are you doing in the middle of this?’ That has served me well. This isn’t an ‘I, me,’ but I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You’re naive’ or say, ‘He’s naive.’ Well, it’s a beautiful world. … It’s a better world to be naive than to be skeptical and be negative all the time.”

Jones choked up when discussing former coach Jimmy Johnson’s tenure with the Cowboys now that Johnson is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.

“Well, I just think of those great times, and Jimmy’s a great coach,” Jones said. “Ridiculous. My role here was, my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good. Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”

The current Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, including a 6-10 finish in 2020 in Mike McCarthy’s first season as coach. Dak Prescott played in just five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, but he will be a full participant when practice opens Thursday. A number of other key players also missed significant time due to injury.

With Prescott and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins healthy and the addition of Dan Quinn at defensive coordinator, Jones is optimistic about 2021, if not bombastic.

“I think we got a way to make it work big for this season,” Jones said. “You put those two things together, and I think we got a chance to be a really good team.”

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