Having players with positional flexibility is very useful. It helps when disguising coverages before the snap and allows defenses to mix things up. Soon to be former Atlanta Falcon Keanu Neal fits that description.
Neal played under current Cowboys coaches Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt Jr., who were with the Falcons last season. Those two coaches know how to utilize Neal and integrate him into the Cowboys’ lineup.
The 25-year-old has had injury issues but plays like a top-notch safety when healthy. The insight Quinn and Whitt have regarding Neal’s injury history gives Dallas an advantage heading into free agency.
Of his five seasons in the NFL, he played in more than three games three times. Of 80 possible games played, the safety played only 49 games.
In all three seasons where Neal played most of the season, he made at least 100 tackles. Neal, like McDougald, is a tackle-first defender. That showed up last season as he gave up a 74.2 percent completion percentage.
Neal fits the type of player the Cowboys want to find. A versatile safety that can play as the lone safety overtop and someone that can secure tackles.
The issues surrounding the former Pro Bowler have nothing to do with his play. It is rather his contract and injury concerns.
The upside is the two season-ending injuries in 2018 and 2019 were different injuries. Another positive is that Neal only missed one game in 2020, suggesting he is now healthy.
Neal would be the best safety to play in Dallas since Darren Woodson. He is the player the Cowboys missed last season.
Contract-wise, I would hope the Cowboys could get a three to four-year deal. That gives the team some term to rework the cap space and not many repercussions if injuries creep up again.
Regardless of what Jerry Jones does, it needs to improve the team’s safeties. McDougald is the box safety they need, Woods is a cheaper option as the lone safety, and Neal is the impact player. Adding in a rookie through the draft is a need as well.
The 2021 season is promising, even before the defensive additions. With some signatures, the team will look to compete for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.