Former Falcons’ 1st-Round Pick Signs With NFC Rival

Keanu Neal Falcons

Getty Former Falcons' starting safety Keanu Neal signs with Bucs.

After spending one year in Dallas with the Cowboys, former Atlanta Falcons‘ first-round pick Keanu Neal is headed back to the NFC South to suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Wednesday, April 6, Neal will move back to playing the safety position after playing linebacker in Dallas under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The Bus later released a video of Neal as their “newest Buccaneer,” making the signing official.

“Bucs fans, Keanu Neal here. Happy to be with you guys. Ready to bring that physicality attack and be a part of a special group. So, go Bucs! Let’s get it!,” Neal said in the video.

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Neal Was a 2016 First-Round Pick

Neal was originally selected out of the University of Florida in the first round (17th overall) by the Falcons in the 2016 NFL Draft.

As a rookie, he finished the season with 105 total tackles (72 solo), nine passes defended, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery through 14 games and 14 starts.

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.

2018 was a no-go for Neal due to a season-ending ACL injury, which he tore during the team’s season opener against the Eagles.

In 2019, his year was cut short, once again, after he tore his Achilles in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. He was able to bounce back in 2020 and played 15 games, missing just one week with a hamstring injury and finishing the season with 100 tackles (76 solo), nine tackles for a loss, one interception, and one forced fumble.

The Falcons did not put a franchise tag on Neal ahead of 2021’s NFL free agency, which meant he was free to find a new home––and he did.

Neal reunited with the Dan Quinn at the Cowboys on a one-year, $5 million dollar deal.

Playing primarily as a weak-side linebacker in Quinn’s defense, Neal totaled 72 tackles and one sack through 14 games.

Now, Neal will move back to the position he was drafted as in Tampa and hopefully can see another rise in production.

The Bucs Also Signed Russell Gage

Neal isn’t the only former Falcons player that the Bucs signed to a contract this offseason.

The falcons’ No. 1 wide receiver for the majority of last season, Russell Gage, hit the jackpot by signing a three-year $30 million contract with the Buccaneers last month, giving him a $2.2 million raise on the final year of his rookie contract.

Gage became the Falcons’ leading receiver in 2021 after having to step up in the absence of Calvin Ridley.

The 26-year-old is fresh off of his two best seasons after catching 72 passes for 786 yards and four touchdowns with Atlanta in 2020, and 66 passes for 770 yards and four touchdowns just this past season. In fact, his best performance to date came against the Buccaneers in Week 13 of 2021 where he caught 11 of 12 targets for 130 yards.

He now joins a true contender that recently welcomed back Tom Brady out of retirement.


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