SS Keanu Neal makes almost too much sense for the Steelers
By Andrew Falce
Much has been said about the Steelers strong safety room, but a new name has officially entered the conversation and frankly, he makes a lot of sense.
While the fans are salivating for Tyrann Mathieu and there is still no news on former Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, a name everyone should have circled on their free agency list is Keanu Neal. The former Falcon and Cowboys defender has found his way into free agency again, and with the need prevalent at safety, he could be a good fit for the team.
Looking back, he fits the typical links that the Steelers look for in a free agent signing. Linking him back to his pre-draft cycle a few years ago, the team had reported interest in him, going so far as to bring him in for a pre-draft visit. They never had the chance to acquire him though, as the Falcons took him before the Steelers were on the clock. That said, the pre-draft interest and pedigree make him a fit for what the team normally looks for in a player.
Neal fits what the Steelers want
In terms of what he brings to a team, Neal would be an ideal running mate to Minkah Fitzpatrick. Neal popularized the hybrid safety/linebacker role while in Atlanta, as his size and run-stopping ability made him a natural playmaker close to the line of scrimmage. He was so effective there that the Cowboys ultimately tried him at linebacker last season, albeit to varying results.
While at safety with the Falcons, Neal inserted himself into the conversation of one of the best box safeties in the league. Injuries derailed his career though, as he only was healthy enough for four total games in his two seasons following his sophomore pro bowl season. He played one more average season with the Falcons before moving to linebacker last season with the Cowboys.
While he wasn’t horrible at linebacker, his play there wasn’t what was needed of the position. Frankly, Neal looked like a safety trying to fit in at linebacker when on the field. Now that he is committed to staying at safety, he would slot in naturally at strong safety and should provide a capable starter for the Steelers if called upon.
In terms of cost, one has to think Neal will be pretty affordable. He only signed a four million dollar deal last season and that was with him as a linebacker. Considering he was a disappointment there, it seems likely that he will earn less than that in 2022. My guess would be on a one- or two-year deal that pays him between 1.5-2 million as a base salary with some incentives to sweeten the pot.
It is vital to remember that Neal was a blossoming star in this league before he was injured. Most viewed him as a top safety. While he has a long road to prove that he is still that player, on a cheap deal it would be well worth the risk. The team could also look to the draft to find a capable long-term starter at strong safety, but they wouldn’t be forced to target one in the top two rounds.
The mix of value on the contract, potential, and fit with the Steelers really makes Neal a smart addition to this secondary. No, his name doesn’t carry the weight of a Mathieu or the familiarity of an Edmunds, but he should come in far cheaper and with a bigger chip on his shoulder. If the team wants a more potential-laden option to sit in front of a rookie, Neal makes a lot of sense for the team to add.