With Keanu Neal gone in free agency, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face an ever-growing need at safety.
The Bucs could pursue Las Vegas Raiders free agent safety Duron Harmon, who could command as little as $1.7 million per Pro Football Focus. Harmon posted 86 tackles, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown in 2022.
“His first season in Las Vegas was good, as he recorded 86 tackles, five pass breakups, and two interceptions, including a pick-six against the Houston Texans,” wrote Carter Landds of Sports Illustrated’s Raider Maven. “Against the Seattle Seahawks, Harmon recorded a season-high in tackles with seven. The Raiders overall were not very good at defending the ball in the air this season, but Harmon did what he could.”
Harmon has 23 career interceptions and 401 tackles for his career amid 10 seasons with four different teams. His career began with New England Patriots where he won three Super Bowls with the team.
Other free agent options, albeit likely more costly than $1 million per year, include Green Bay’s Adrian Amos, Indianapolis’ Rodney McLeod, Cleveland’s John Johnson III, and Denver’s Kareem Jackson. The Bucs could also find a safety or two in the draft such as Alabama’s Brian Branch, Illinois’ Sydney Brown, and Virginia’s Anthony Johnson Jr.
Bucs Lose Neal to Steelers
Neal, a 2017 Pro Bowler, will sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers for a two-year deal as announced by Neal’s agent, David Canter. Neal joined the Bucs as a free agent in 2022 for a one-year deal worth $1.72 million, and he tallied an interception, 63 tackles, and a half sack.
Neal previously played for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021 and the Atlanta Falcons from 2016 to 2020. He has three interceptions, 473 tackles, and 2.5 sacks in his career. His best season came in 2017 when he had 116 tackles and a pick. He has three seasons with 100 or more tackles thus far.
Atlanta drafted him in with the No. 17 pick in 2016 out of Florida. Neal notably helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl that season, and he played against former Bucs quarterback Tom Brady in the Big Game. Brady engineered an epic comeback from 28-3 down for the New England Patriots to beat the Falcons 34-28.
While Neal joined forces with Brady in Tampa last season with hopes of a Super Bowl ring, the Bucs sputtered to 8-9 and exited in the Wild Card round. Neal started eight games for the Bucs, and he played in all 17 contests.
Despite rotational role, Neal made one of the biggest defensive plays of the season. He broke up a third down pass against the New Orleans Saints late in the fourth quarter during a 16-13 comeback win in December 2022. It set up a Saints punt and Brady’s game-winning drive for the Bucs, and it helped set up the Bucs to clinch the NFC South the weeks later against the Carolina Panthers.
Though the Bucs can replace Neal, his departure leaves the team with two safeties on the roster — Antoine Winfield Jr. and Nolan Turner. The Bucs already lost safety Mike Edwards in free agency, and free agent safety Logan Ryan remains unsigned. The defensive backfield also took hit when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting left in free agency last week.
Ryan Still on Bucs’ Radar
Tampa Bay could alleviate Neal’s departure by re-signing Ryan, who had 37 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in nine games last season.
“He’s an option as well,” Bowles told reporters at the NFL Annual Meeting.
“We have a lot of guys out there that are still in the process that we just have not let go of completely,” Bowles added. “We’re still in the process of working it out.”
The Bucs sit at just $235,602 below the salary cap, per Spotrac, with many holes to fill. Ryan signed a one-year, $1.120 million deal with the Bucs after two seasons with the New York Giants. Ryan previously played for the Tennessee Titans and Patriots with 742 tackles, 19 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles, and 13 sacks in his career.