Highly Touted Ex-Seahawks Starter Bolts for NFC Rival: Report

Pete Carroll

Getty Former Seahawks starter Ryan Neal is signing with the Buccaneers.

A former notable Seattle Seahawks starter has found a new home.

According to Jordan Schultz of The Score, former Seahawks safety Ryan Neal is signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Former #Seahawks safety Ryan Neal has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the #Bucs, source tells @theScore,” Schultz wrote on Tuesday, April 4. “Legitimate starting caliber player who put together very solid tape in Seattle last season. Only 27 years old.”

Seahawks Allow Ryan Neal to Become Free Agent After Withdrawn Offer

The signing comes just days after the Seahawks rescinded their offer to retain Neal, who was previously considered a restricted free agent.

Via Field Yates of ESPN:

“The Seahawks have withdrawn the restricted free agent tender from S Ryan Neal, making him a free agent and eligible to sign with any team,” Yates wrote on Friday, March 31. “He stepped up for the team with a career season in 2022, posting 66 tackles and 8 passes defensed.”

The 27-year-old Neal broke out as the Seahawks’ starting strong safety last season amid Jamal Adams’ season-ending torn quad suffered in Week 1 of last year. Neal started a career-high 10 games after starting just nine during the prior four seasons of his career.

Head coach Pete Carroll took notice of the young safety’s impressive play during Seattle’s playoff season back in November.

Via Mike Kiwak of Bucs Nation:

“The position that [Neal] is in and the stuff that we are asking the safeties to do is something that I have been really excited about for some time. He’s been one of the guys that has taken advantage of it,” Carroll said. “He’s a really good all-around ball player. He can play the run, he can play the pass, he pursues well, he hits well, and he can make plays on the ball. He has all of the skills that can take advantage of the opportunities that he’s placed in. He is pressuring well, and all of that. He’s doing a really good job.”

Ryan Neal Ranked as NFL’s Top Safety in 2022

Not only did Neal post the best season of his career, he posted the best year of any safety in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus. Neal posted the highest grade of any full-time safety last season with an 85.6 grade. For perspective, the next-closest ranked safety (with at least 700 snaps) was the Washington Commanders’ Kamren Curl with an 82.9 defensive grade.

By comparison, the Seahawks’ highly-paid safety — Jamal Adams, who earns $17.6 million per year as the NFL’s top earner at strong safetyposted a 60.1 defensive grade during the 2021 season and a 64.2 defensive grade during the 2020 season.

Jonathan Macri of Pro Football Focus details just how good Neal was after he emerged as a Seahawks starter in Week 5.

“From Week 5 on, Neal didn’t allow a single touchdown and just a 54.3% completion percentage as the primary coverage player on 35 targets,” said Macri. “He posted a 20.0% forced incompletion rate (tied for 10th) and surrendered just a 51.3 passer rating when targeted (ninth) in that time, as well, which led to the second-best coverage grade (85.7) at the position.”

Despite Neal clearly emerging as the Seahawks’ best safety last season, Seattle’s contract commitments to Adams, Quandre Diggs ($13 million annual average salary) and free agent signee Julian Love (two years, $12 million) made it difficult for Seattle to retain him.

With the Buccaneers losing veteran safeties Mike Edwards and Keanu Neal to free agency this offseason, Neal will start alongside Antoine Winfield Jr. as Tampa Bay’s top two safeties.

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