Not since he hung up his Hall-of-Fame cleats has anyone dared touch Emmitt Smith’s No. 22 with the Dallas Cowboys.
That isn’t about to change for Keanu Neal.
The new Cowboys hybrid defender, signed to a one-year, $5 million contract last month, recently announced on social media that he plans to wear jersey No. 42 in silver and blue.
Keanu Neal wore 22 in Atlanta, so it was a good bet he’d be changing his number in Dallas.
Per his Instagram, looks like he’s gonna rock the Barry Church. pic.twitter.com/3MUcim7zcd
— David Helman (@HelmanDC) April 2, 2021
As mentioned above, the last player to don No. 42 with the Cowboys was former longtime safety Barry Church, who rocked the digits from 2010-16. Other notables who wore the number include ex-defensive back Anthony Henry (2005-08) and running backs Troy Hambrick (2001-03) and Chris Warren (1998-2000).
Reunited with former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr., Neal — the 17th overall pick of the 2016 draft — is expected to begin his Cowboys tenure working at weakside linebacker after playing safety during his five years in Atlanta.
“He’ll start off with the linebackers,” Dallas HC Mike McCarthy said on March 25. “Obviously he has the ability to go back and play the safeties. Keanu is an impact player. I think that’s an excellent signing for us. … I know Dan and Joe and all the guys that worked with him in Atlanta were excited, too.”
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More Numbers Announced
On Thursday, the Cowboys officially unveiled jersey numbers for each of their non-Neal free-agent pickups — a total of eight players, including six on the defensive side of the ball.
Safeties Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse were awarded Nos. 35 and 42, respectively, according to the Dallas Morning News. (This was before Neal’s apparent proclamation; it’s unclear which number Kearse has assumed.)
Defensive linemen Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban will suit up in Nos. 91 and 95, respectively, while defensive end/outside linebacker Tarell Basham was given No. 98, the number previously occupied by freshly-retired DE Tyrone Crawford.
Offensive lineman Ty Nsekhe will drape No. 75 across his body, and long snapper Jake McQuaide, the successor to legendary now-former LS LP Ladouceur, was assigned No. 44.
Additionally, the team revealed, practice-squad DB Stephen Parker switched to No. 25 following the defection of S Xavier Woods, who joined the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
Cowboys announced jersey assignments for FA acquisitions. None yet for LB Keanu Neal, whose signing is still pending a physical (no concern).
35 FS Damontae Kazee
42 S Jayron Kearse
44 LS Jake McQuaide
75 OT Ty Nsekhe
91 DT Carlos Watkins
95 DL Brent Urban
98 DE Tarell Basham
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) April 1, 2021
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‘Worst’ Signing in Free Agency?
Among the group of imports, it’s Basham — he of 42 career appearances for the New York Jets, who inked a two-year, $6.5 million deal on March 18 — who’s been panned by critics. Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay pegged the transaction as Dallas’ worst move of the 2021 NFL signing period.
Dallas had plenty of issues to address, but it failed to make flashy signings to fill the gaps. Instead of getting a marquee pass-rusher, the Cowboys’ biggest splurge was for a raw talent in defensive end Tarell Basham.
Basham, a four-year veteran who has just 7.5 sacks during his career, feels like a bit of a settle for the ‘Boys. While there is still undeniable upside in signing the 27-year-old to a two-year, $5.5 million contract, he isn’t the big-time playmaker who could push Dallas to the next level.
The Cowboys should still be a viable contender as long as Prescott can stay healthy, but they didn’t load up for a Super Bowl run and still need to find a consistent pass-rusher to take the defense up a notch.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL