The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed unrestricted free agent Keanu Neal, who will be switching teams and positions in 2022.
In both cases, Neal is returning to his roots. The former Florida Gator played five seasons for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South as a safety before signing with the Dallas Cowboys last season and temporarily converting to the linebacker position. After the season, Neal confirmed reports that he would be switching back to safety moving forward.
The Buccaneers had a close-up view as Neal's NFL career got off to a strong start with the rival Falcons. The 17th-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Neal jumped immediately into Atlanta's starting lineup and established himself as one of the league's hardest-hitting safeties. He started all 30 games he played in over his first two seasons, racking up 222 tackles in that span and making the Pro Bowl in 2017.
However, Neal lost almost all of the next two seasons to injury, first with an ACL tear in the 2018 season opener and then with an Achilles tendon rupture three games into the 2019 campaign. He rebounded to start 14 games for Atlanta in 2020, notching his third 100-tackle season and adding nine tackles for loss, one sack, three quarterback hits, one interception, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Neal signed with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent a year ago, reuniting with former Atlanta Head Coach Dan Quinn, who had just taken over as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. Neal agreed to switch to linebacker to take advantage of his tackling abilities and ended up in a rotation with Micah Parson and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle of the Cowboys' defense. He missed three games while on the COVID list but appeared in 14 contests with five starts, contributing 72 tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
Neal is the second veteran player the Buccaneers have added to their secondary since the start of free agency, and both are versatile talents. The team also signed former Giant Logan Ryan, who has played both cornerback and safety during his nine years in the NFL. The Bucs lost starting safety Jordan Whitehead to the Jets early in free agency.