- Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal is a free agent in 2021
- Neal is among the top safeties hitting free agency this offseason
- Which teams should pursue Neal?
While it has always been fun to watch the Ed Reed’s and Charles Woodson’s (later in his career) of the world fly around the secondary with incredible ball tracking skills, there has always been a place in the game for hard hitting safeties. Recently nominated Hall Of Fame safety John Lynch was more of a physical intimidator than pass coverage savant, and Kam Chancellor put the “boom” in Seattle’s “Legion Of Boom” for many years.
Jamal Adams gets all the headlines as the pre-eminent physical safety of the current crop of players, and rightfully so. But Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal knows how to dole out punishment too, and is entering free agency after five seasons with the team.
Neal had an extremely impressive first couple of seasons in the NFL, showing promise during his rookie year when the Atlanta Falcons made it to the Super Bowl. In his second year, he recorded a career high 83 solo tackles. However, things changed in his third and fourth seasons. He missed considerable time due to ACL and Achilles injuries.
Neal had a solid bounce back season in 2020, registering 100 combined tackles in 14 games played. It will leave teams feeling positive about his recovery from major injuries, but they will also have to be cognizant of the notion that he might be more of a glorified linebacker than a safety who can alternate between playing in the box and dropping back into coverage.
Here are three teams who should pursue Neal in free agency.
Had Neal not suffered such serious injuries and not basically missed two full seasons due to injury, he probably would have been in line for an enormous pay raise and long term deal. However, because his stock has taken a bit of a hit due to durability concerns, he may opt to take a prove-it type of one year deal, in order to secure a more lucrative contract next year.
Playing well in Dallas can rehabilitate a player’s value like few other stops in the NFL.
As was often discussed last year, the Cowboys defense was not up to par. Fans are hopeful for improved play on that side of the football. While Neal may not provide a boost in suspect pass coverage, he should be able to help out near the line of scrimmage alongside Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. It would be a worthwhile partnership and gamble for both sides.
Another defense that had a rough time in 2020 was the Minnesota Vikings porous unit. Head coach Mike Zimmer, who has made a name for himself in the league overseeing successful defenses, admitted that their performance stopping teams last season might have been the worst he’s ever been associated with.
It’s unlikely that Zimmer will be able to stomach another performance like that in 2021. He will likely want to start the build back up to respectability by getting tougher up front.
If the Vikings let Harris walk, they will be keen to fill that position with a guy like Neal who could help restore physicality to a team that could really use some.
Speaking of another team that could potentially lose an impact safety, the Denver Broncos will have to decide what to do with Justin Simmons.
He’s been a solid player for Denver. Simmons has emerged under head coach Vic Fangio, so the organization will likely try to do everything they can to keep him, including possibly using the franchise tag.
Regardless of whether Simmons returns to Denver or takes his talents elsewhere, the Broncos could use an infusion of Neal’s skill set. The Broncos were fourth worst in the NFL last season in yards per rushing attempt allowed. They could stand to get more stout in the box.
Additionally, linebacker Von Miller’s recovery will be a big subplot and storyline. If he is not the same player he once was, Neal’s aggressiveness in filling the hole could mitigate some of that concern.