Cowboys agree to deal with Keanu Neal, what this could mean for Jaylon Smith, Donovan Wilson

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
K.D. Drummond
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Dallas Cowboys have turned up the heat on their free agent pursuits and have landed a very intriguing piece of their 2021 defensive puzzle. After learning on Friday that former Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal was deciding between two landing spots, and one was the Cowboys, word has emerged on Saturday the Cowboys were able to secure the deal.

Neal has signed on to join the Cowboys for a one-year, $5 million deal.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

On Friday it was foretold that Neal was deciding between the Cowboys and New York Jets, but also that the Cowboys envisioned him playing weakside linebacker in Dan Quinn’s defense.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Neal was drafted with the 17th overall selection in the 2016 draft, the same class that brought Dallas Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Jaylon Smith.

Smith was moved to the weakside linebacker spot last season by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan while 2018 first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch was meant to play the mike backer. Vander Esch’s injury moved Smith back on the inside.

Now Dan Quinn, who has been the head coach in Atlanta and drafted Neal, wants him at the weakside position. What this means for the rest of the position group is highly interesting as the Cowboys can move away from Smith over the next 48 hours before his 2022 base salary becomes guaranteed. They also have to make a decision on giving Vander Esch his guaranteed-base salary in 2021 by May 3.

Of course Dallas could end up playing with all three and shuffling each around, including playing either Smith or Vander Esch on the strong side or allowing Neal some time to play at strong safety where he had been a Pro Bowl player prior to several catastrophic injuries.

Neal tore his ACL in 2018 in the opening week of the season. He returned in 2019 but in the third week tore his achilles. He did return to play in 2020 and appeared in 15 games, 14 of them starts, but he did not have the production he had during his early career.

Between 2016 and 2017, Neal was a heat-seeking missile and became known as one of, if not the hardest-hitting safety in the league. Very explosive, he forced eight fumbles over those first two years, making the all-star game in his second season. He also managed 14 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception.

After virtually missing two entire seasons, those stats did not return in 2020. He had just two pass deflections and no forced fumbles. He did get an interception, but that was on a trick play where he ended up covering Patrick Mahomes on a route.

After seeing him close up and personal following injury, Quinn apparently has decided that bringing him even closer to the line of scrimmage makes the most sense for the future of his career.

Depending on how much of the $5 million contract is guaranteed and how much is incentive, there should be a clearer picture of what the intent is with the rest of his position. Donovan Wilson emerged last season for the Cowboys as a turnover machine and in his own right a feared hitter.

He played primarily free safety but his skillset is more suited to be a strong safety. How Dallas looks to move in regard to the former sixth-round pick will be an offshoot of this decision as well.

List

From LB to college DT, Alim McNeill's feet make intriguing prospect for Cowboys to consider

List

Pre-Free Agency 7-round Cowboys mock draft floods defense with playmakers