Update: Keanu Neal agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Steelers on March 30, according to a tweet by agent David Canter.
Another reunion, orchestrated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is in the works. And, no, it’s not with Bud Dupree (though that looks to be imminent). According to a report by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, the Steelers are close to a deal with former first-round safety Keanu Neal. Should they seal that deal, he would be reunited with fellow safety Damontae Kazee. The two were drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back drafts (2016, 2017) and went on to play briefly for the Dallas Cowboys.
The 17th overall draft pick from Florida earned Pro Bowl honors in his second NFL season by registering an interception, three forced fumbles, six passes defended and 116 tackles, according to Pro Football Reference.
The injury bug bit him hard in the seasons that followed. He then tore his ACL in the 2018 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles and suffered a second consecutive season-ending injury after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 3 of 2019. Coming off the devastating injuries, he has played 14 of 15 games in 2020 and 31 others since.
Where Does Keanu Neal Fit in With Pittsburgh Steelers?
If Keanu Neal, 27, joins the Steelers, it’ll be his fourth team in as many seasons. After five years in Atlanta, he played with Dallas in the middle linebacker role in 2021 before heading east to suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and reverting to safety.
Neal would add another option for a Steelers secondary that’ll look vastly different this season after parting ways with cornerback Cam Sutton and bringing in eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. There’s chatter of moving Peterson to free safety, allowing Minkah Fitzpatrick to move to strong safety. They are short a starting strong safety after Terrell Edmunds signed with Pennsylvania’s other team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Neal’s size (6-feet, 211 pounds) and ability to stop the run indicate a safety/linebacker hybrid role. If Peterson remains at corner, he could replace Edmunds, allowing Fitzpatrick more freedom to roam while playing in the box. According to Pro Football Focus, Neal spent 2,371 snaps in the box. It’s also possible the Steelers move him back to linebacker. Being a hybrid player is extremely valuable and inside linebacker could just be how things shake out for Neal in Pittsburgh.
At the very least, Neal would provide depth or compete with Damontae Kazee for the starting role. It’s too soon to tell where he’ll land on the roster, but training camp will offer more insight.
Steelers Had Interest in Keanu Neal During NFL Draft Process
Like new Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Elandon Roberts, Mike Tomlin and company showed an interest in Keanu Neal during the 2016 NFL draft process. The Steelers had a gaping hole at strong safety and scouted Neal as an option to fill it. The defensive back tweeted that he was headed to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
At 17, the Falcons swooped in and snatched him up before the Steelers at No. 25, who selected a bust of a cornerback in Artie Burns.