Keanu Neal played five seasons at safety in Atlanta. Not only is the newly singed Dallas Cowboy switching cities, but he’ll also have a new position.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Cowboys plan to switch Neal to weakside linebacker, per sources informed of the situation.
A potential move was speculated before Neal agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with the Cowboys over the weekend.
Neal’s hard-hitting style and ability to step up against the run make a switch to linebacker an intriguing move. Given that new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn never made that move in Atlanta adds additional interest to the position swap.
We’ve seen more safeties attempt to make a switch to linebacker — in some schemes referred to as the ‘money’ backer — in recent years to mixed results. Listed at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, we’ll see if Neal can make a positive transition. If he becomes an impactful linebacker, Neal would hit the open market next offseason to more options.
A Pro Bowl safety in 2017, Neal’s career has been hit hard by injuries. He missed all but four games from 2018-2019. When on the field, however, he’s proven to be an enforcer with range. He’s complied at least 100 tackles in each season he’s played at least 14 games.
With Neal slotted to move to linebacker, the question is what it means for Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. LVE seems destined to patrol the middle. Smith could move to the rushing LEO role in Quinn’s system, given his knack for rushing the passer.
However it shakes out, Neal moving to linebacker offers the Cowboys versatility at the middle level of the defense, particularly upgrading coverage.
The move means the Cowboys are still in the market for additional safety help. Rapoport reported the Cowboys are hosting free agents Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee. The latter also played under Quinn in Atlanta.
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