“I feel I can play safety, linebacker,” Neal said. “Wherever they put me, I’m going to go out there and play at my best. Growing up, I played linebacker in middle school and high school. Then, we changed the defense, and I switched to safety. So I went to college as a safety, but in my heart, I have been a linebacker for a while. I still have an understanding of what everything entails with playing linebacker.”
The former first-round pick is listed at 6’1″ and 216 pounds. This year, he plans on bulking up a bit and playing around 222 lbs in the fall. It’ll be an adjustment, but old pal Dan Quinn is confident that he can make it work.
When Neal signed in March, most assumed that the Cowboys would keep him in the secondary, since they already had two three-down ‘backers and a need at safety. They’ve even bolstered the LB group since then by drafting Micah Parsons with the No. 12 overall pick, followed by LSU’s Jabril Cox in the fourth round.
Still, Sean Lee is out of the picture and the Cowboys may see Neal as a potential 2022 replacement for Leighton Vander Esch, who had his fifth-year option declined. For now, Neal’s only signed for 2021 on a one-year, $5MM deal.
Neal, 26 in July, recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his three healthy seasons. He posted 106 stops last year — including a career-high nine tackles for loss — and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 33 overall safety.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.