Keanu Neal played in 15 games this season for the Falcons, and they could be the final ones of his career in a home uniform, as he is set to become a free-agent.
According to PFF, he was top ten in tackles among all safeties and graded out at 68.2 overall. What is most impressive about Neal’s game is the development in his pass rush. He was brought on 27 blitzes with six pressures — very effective for a safety.
Neal is still shaky in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks had a 98.3 passer rating when targeting him (66 attempts); Neal gave up 74.2% of those targets for 564 yards and one touchdown. It is just not somewhere he thrives. Keeping him would require a defensive coordinator willing to let Neal play around the line of scrimmage, with fewer responsibilities in man-to-man coverage.
There could be a case to bring the hard-hitting safety back on a one or two-year deal, but it should be done sparingly due to his lack of availability. Neal played in four games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. An ACL and Achilles injury sidelined him for essentially two years. However, despite those setbacks, I must admit he looked great in terms of his movement.
Before even trying to negotiate a deal, the defensive coordinator would have to give his input. Depending on the system brought in, Neal’s skill set could make bringing him back worthwhile. But on the flip side, it could also be like fitting a square peg in a round hole. It just depends. Personally, I would like to see Neal in the robber position more where he is flying around the field in the run game and showing good range against underneath routes when playing zone.
Think of Jamal Adams in Seattle or Darnell Savage in Green Bay. Having Neal closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to use his aggressive, hard-nosed style most effectively. He was able to play a full season and provide quality snaps down in the box and the slot this past season. But giving Neal more than a one or two-year deal is a little overzealous. I would be comfortable handing him an incentive-based contract if he wanted to return.
Signing Neal for two years, $10 million ($5M APY) is a reasonable value, in my opinion. The incentives could be snap or game-based. There could also be incentives for the number of tackles, pro-bowl, and all-pro honors. Of course, this would be predicated on Neal’s willingness to bet on himself; if he were looking for a large guaranteed number, I wouldn’t be too keen on bringing him back.