ESPN and NFL insider Josina Anderson reported on Friday that Neal was deciding between playing for the New York Jets or Dallas Cowboys.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 19, 2021
And 24 hours later, Neal made up his mind and signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Neal and Dallas agreed to a one-year, $5 million dollar deal on Saturday, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 20, 2021
The former 2016 first-round pick finished the season with 100 tackles (76 solo), nine tackles for a loss, one interception, and one forced fumble.
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Neal Reunites With Dan Quinn
This move wasn’t surprising as the former No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has played his entire NFL career under Dan Quinn, former Atlanta Falcons head coach.
Quinn was fired by the Falcons following an 0-5 start but was hired as the Cowboy’s defensive coordinator this off-season.
Dallas has a sticky safety situation with Xavier Woods likely finding a new home in free agency, leaving Donovan Wilson the team’s reliable only starter left in the lineup.
Neal spent his entire Falcons career at safety, but he could shift to weakside linebacker, according to Anderson’s tweet above. Neals’ 338 career tackles and three seasons with 100-plus tackles suggest that might not be a bad move on Dallas’ end.
Following the Falcons’ famous 2016 ending, Neal earned a Pro Bowl nod after posting 116 tackles, four tackles for loss, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and an interception in 2-17. Neal joins the Cowboys as the most experienced safety on the depth chart.
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Injuries Could Be a Concern
What might be a concern to the Cowboys and fans is that the 25-year old suffered season-ending injuries in both 2018 (an ACL tear) and 2019 (an Achilles tear). In those two seasons, Neal played a total of just four games.
Durability is something to think about as two seasons barely counted for Neal. He tore his ACL in the season opener of the 2018 season, and then he tore his Achilles in Week 3 of 2019 season. The good news is he rebounded last year and played 15 games. He missed just one week with a hamstring injury. More good news is that Neal is just 25 so the past injuries might not affect him as much as it would a 28 or 30-year-old player.
Neal will join with Donovan Wilson and Darian Thompson as the team’s primary safeties for now.