Steelers Part Ways With Veteran Defensive Back

Keanu Neal

Getty The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on March 7 that they have released safety Keanu Neal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have opened a little more salary cap space with another roster cut. The Steelers announced on March 7 that they have released safety Keanu Neal.

The Steelers cut Neal with a failed physical designation.

Neal finished the 2023 regular season on injured reserve because of a rib ailment. He missed the team’s final nine games including the playoffs.

The 2023 season was Neal’s first with the Steelers. He signed a 2-year, $4.25 million contract with Pittsburgh last spring.

In 2024, Neal was set to count as a $2.25 million cap hit. Before top 51 roster displacement, the Steelers will save a little less than $1.5 million with Neal’s release.

“Keanu Neal was set to earn $2.25 million in 2025 so the Steelers will save that in salary cap space minus top 51 roster displacement, which right now appears to be $795K,” Steelers Depot’s X (formerly Twitter) account wrote. “$460K dead money charge for Neal in 2024.”

In nine games with the Steelers last season, Neal posted 50 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass defenses and an interception. His interception came in the end zone with 3:32 left in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers during Week 10.

Neal’s interception helped seal a 23-19 victory. However, Neal suffered his season-ending rib injury on the play.

Steelers Release Veteran Safety Keanu Neal

The Steelers hoped they were getting a hard-hitting safety to pair next to Minkah Fitzpatrick. But Neal underperformed according to Pro Football Focus and then was unavailable during the second half of the season.

The PFF player grades ranked Neal 78th among 104 safeties who played at least 20% of his team’s defensive snaps in 2023.

Of all the safeties who played snaps for the Steelers during 2023, PFF rated Neal sixth.

The Steelers don’t save a lot of salary cap space by releasing Neal. But the fact that he still isn’t healthy may have been the last straw.

Neal began his career as the No. 17 selection for the Atlanta Falcons in the 2016 NFL draft. He started as a rookie on Atlanta’s defense which won the NFC championship.

In 2017, Neal made the Pro Bowl with 116 combined tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 6 pass defenses, 3 forced fumbles and 1 interception.

But over the next two seasons, Neal suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 during 2018 and then an Achilles tendon tear in Week 3 of 2019. Neal missed 28 games because of the injuries and was never the same player after his return.

Following a fifth season with the Falcons, Neal spent one season each with the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with the Steelers.

Pittsburgh’s Safety Depth Entering NFL Free Agency

Neal started eight games for the Steelers last season. However, since he didn’t end the campaign as a starter, the Steelers technically still have their starting safeties on the 2024 roster.

Other than Fitzpatrick, the Steelers have three other safeties on the roster overall — Damontae Kazee, Trenton Thompson and Jalen Elliott.

Kazee played a lot even before Neal’s injury and then entered the starting lineup. However, PFF didn’t rate Kazee’s performance that much higher than Neal.

Therefore, the Steelers could look for a safety upgrade in free agency. That would move Kazee back into his hybrid role as the team’s third safety.

Like Neal, a lot of veteran safeties have reached free agency as roster cuts over the past week. Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora suggested the Steelers finding an every down strong safety to pair with Fitzpatrick.

“Even before all the injuries last year, didn’t love the base/sub rotation they had w/ Kazee & Neal,” Kozora wrote on X. “Get someone to play opposite Minkah every snap. Build chemistry, allow Fitzpatrick more free roaming instead of near LOS. Good FA class.”

Veteran Patrick Peterson could be another option at safety for the Steelers. Peterson has played cornerback during his NFL career, but he began lining up at safety more often late in 2023. Peterson will also turn 34 in July.

However, it’s probably just as likely that the Steelers release Peterson for further salary cap relief as it is that they move him to safety.

NFL free agency officially begins on March 13.

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