Safety Keanu Neal to Cowboys makes a lot of free agency sense to a lot of people

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Lorenzo Almanza
·3 min read
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After creating some much-needed cap space with the signing of Dak Prescott and restructuring of several contracts, the Dallas Cowboys must shift their attention elsewhere, as they look to improve upon a depleted defense from last season. One position group that must be addressed more than any other is the secondary.

Last season Dallas struggled to do the basics of football: cover, tackle and force turnovers. Looking at the 2020 defensive rankings, the team remained in the bottom ten of passing yards allowed and converted a mere 10 interceptions. Help is needed and a former player of Dan Quinn might just fit into Dallas’ plans. Former Falcons’ safety Keanu Neal could be the missing link.

In a recent simulated offseason scenario, Sports Illustrated predicted that Neal would wind up signing with Dallas. They also had Dallas selecting Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, Miami DE Quincy Roche, UCLA DT Osa Odighizuwa and North Carolina Central CB Bryan Mills in the first three rounds.

Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report added on to the fire that Dallas should consider Neal.

The former first-round pick hasn’t lived up to expectations in Atlanta, but there’s reason to believe his best football could still be in front of him.

That’s because a lot of the 25-year-old’s struggles have come because of injuries. After amassing 222 total tackles, 14 passes defended and eight forced fumbles in his first two seasons, he missed large portions of his next two seasons with an Achilles injury and an ACL tear.

That’s a red flag, but it’s one that could also point toward his potential to improve. Neal came back healthy last season and had 100 tackles in 15 games with nine tackles for a loss. Given another year of recovery and health, he could be even better over the next few seasons.

The Florida product is at his best playing a traditional strong safety role.

Neal would make a great asset to a locker room struggling to find its defensive niche. Last season, the former Falcon started 14 of his team’s 15 games. During that time, he added on two pass deflections and one interception. While the numbers may not be eye-catching, one area the safety excelled at was his ability to tackle downfield. In 2020, the former pro bowler finished second on his team with 76 solo tackles. Likewise, he tallied on three quarterback hits and notched his first ever sack.

In 2017, Neal had his best seasons while playing under Quinn. The starting safety computed six pass deflections that year and combined for five forced fumbles. His success under the Cowboy’s coordinator comes as no surprise, as the Falcons had one of the top 10 defenses that season. A major part of his success was due in part to the Cover 3 scheme Atlanta ran. Quinn understood how to utilize players through zone and man-to-man coverage.

Bob Strum of The Athletic believes the free agent safety would come at a cheap price. The belief is that both sides would be able to get a deal done financially, without Dallas breaking the bank. Pro Football Focus predicts a two-year, $10 million deal is the market for Neal.

Should Jerry Jones decide to purse Neal, the question remains at what cost? The Cowboys would be wise to splash interest at a player that they lack depth at. Neal could be the missing piece for the team’s secondary.

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