Neal spent last season playing linebacker for the Cowboys but his previous five years were at safety with the Bucs’ NFC West rival Falcons, which included a Pro Bowl appearance in 2017. The Buccaneers plan to utilize Neal once again at safety under Bowles’ defensive scheme.
“The Bucs are adding another premium defender, signing former Cowboys S Keanu Neal, source said,” Rapoport tweeted on April 6. “After moving to LB in Cowboys DC Dan Quinn’s system, Neal is back at safety and now with new coach Todd Bowles in Tampa with a deal done by @SPORTSTARSNYC.”
The newest Buccaneer wasted no time sending a message to the Tampa Bay fan base. Neal promised to “bring that physicality” to the Bucs defense.
“Bucs fans, Keanu Neal here, happy to be with you guys,” Neal said in an April 6 video posted by the Buccaneers. “Ready to bring that physicality, attack and be part of this special group. So, go Bucs, let’s get it!”
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Neal Made the Pro Bowl With the Falcons in 2017
The Cowboys had high hopes for Neal but the production during his lone season in Dallas had mix results. Neal posted 72 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack during his 14 appearances, including five starts in 2021. Last offseason, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy outlined his expectations for Neal based on his play with the Falcons.
“He’s a stud. He’s a stud of a player,” McCarthy said in May 2021, per Sports Illustrated’s Mike Fisher. “… I think football comes extremely natural to him. He’s making the full-time conversion into the linebacker room. He looks very comfortable.”
Neal is just one year removed from a 100-tackle season with the Falcons in 2020. The new Bucs defender notched 100 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, one sack and one interception during his 15 appearances which included 14 starts for Atlanta. The good news for Neal is that he is joining what will likely be the most talented defense he has played on during his NFL career.
As for the Cowboys, second-year linebacker Jabril Cox is the favorite to take over Neal’s role.
“Writing has been on the [wall] that Keanu Neal wasn’t coming back here for awhile,” DallasCowboys.com’s David Helman tweeted on April 6. “But I do love the idea of Jabril Cox stepping into that role. And if the Cowboys can add another athletic draft pick to that group, opening Micah Parsons up to moving around even more. Sounds fun.”
Bowles on Perception as Defensive Coach: ‘I am a Head Coach of the Entire Team’
The Buccaneers are going through an interesting transition from “quarterback whisperer” Bruce Arians to Bowles who spent a good portion of his coaching tenure as a defensive coordinator. When asked about NFL teams tending to hire more offensive-minded head coaches, Bowles pushed back against the notion that he was simply a defensive coach.
“I don’t consider myself a defensive-minded coach when I become a head coach” Bowles said during a March 31 press conference. “I am a head coach of the entire team. There will be situational football that me and Byron [Leftwich] will talk about: third-and-ones, two minute and the ballgame.
“You become a head coach. I think there’s this thing going around that defensive coaches can’t be head coaches because you don’t see them, and I think it’s quite the contrary. Obviously, [Bill] Belichick is an outstanding head coach, and we have a few in this league that are very good head coaches.”