Keanu Neal

Extension Candidate: Keanu Neal

Falcons safety Keanu Neal has had a horrible run of injury luck. In 2018, he suffered a torn ACL in the regular season opener, and in 2019, he sustained a torn Achilles during the third game of the season. Both of those injuries were season-enders, so he has played just four games over the past two seasons.

Prior to that, however, he was establishing himself as one of the better young safeties in the game. He was selected by Atlanta with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he racked up 106 tackles in 14 starts in his rookie campaign, which culminated in a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to New England.

He built on that performance in 2017, starting all 16 games and piling up 116 tackles en route to a Pro Bowl nod. He moves with fluidity and has a nose for the football, as evidenced by his high tackle totals and the eight fumbles that he forced over his first two seasons in the league. That ability also helps him in coverage on the back end, though he has just one career interception to date.

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie contract last April, which suggested that they weren’t too concerned about the 2018 ACL tear. Of course, they didn’t bank on the 2019 Achilles tear, and Neal is presently slated to count for about $6.5MM against the 2020 cap thanks to the fifth-year option (the option was guaranteed for injury only at the time it was exercised but became fully-guaranteed when the 2020 league year opened earlier this month).

Though $6.5MM would ordinarily look like a relative bargain for someone with Neal’s abilities, the fact that he has been unable to stay on the field complicates matters a bit. That is especially true since the Falcons have limited salary cap space at the moment.

So on the one hand, it would make sense for Atlanta to let Neal simply play out his contract and revisit the situation prior to the opening of free agency next offseason (after all, although the team’s pass defense was one of the worst in the league from 2018-19, per DVOA, that unit didn’t grade out much higher even when Neal was in the lineup in 2016-17). But the top of the safety market now includes contracts with average annual values of over $14MM, and if Neal has a healthy, bounceback campaign, other clubs may pony up that type of cash to steal him away from the Falcons.

As such, the Falcons could explore an extension with Neal. Such a move would be risky given the health concerns — Neal also dealt with a knee injury not long before his rookie season — but it also has a couple of obvious benefits. One, it would help the Falcons’ immediate cap situation, and two, it could keep a talented young player under contract for several more seasons at a potentially discount rate.

From Neal’s perspective, an extension may represent an undersell if he does play up to his 2017 levels in 2020, but it would also provide him extra security in the event that he cannot recapture his prior form. As of yet, there have been no reports of negotiations between the two sides, but it would not be a surprise to hear of exploratory talks in the coming months.

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Keanu Neal Tears Achilles

For the second straight season, Falcons safety Keanu Neal‘s season has ended with a devastating injury. Neal is believed to have torn his Achilles during the team’s loss to the Colts earlier today, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

The Falcons placed Neal on IR and promoted safety Jamal Carter from their practice squad, per Howard Balzer of (on Twitter).

Obviously, his year is over. Rapoport writes that Neal will have surgery this week, and “should be good to go well before the 2020 season.” In Week 1 of last year Neal tore his ACL, and this latest injury was to the same leg. Atlanta picked up his fifth-year option earlier this offseason, keeping him under team control through 2020. The good news for him is that option year was fully guaranteed for injury at around $6.7MM and assuming he can’t pass a physical on the first day of the new league year, he’ll get that cash no matter what.

Neal has been a good player when healthy, but he’ll now have missed 28 games over the past two seasons. It’s a tough blow for a Falcons defense that already hasn’t looked great this year and was one of the most injured units in the league last year. Atlanta drafted the Florida product in the first-round back in 2016.

He started all 16 games in 2017, racking up 113 tackles, six passes defended, and an interception. The Falcons’ secondary got diced up by Jacoby Brissett on Sunday, and now they’ll be without one of its key cogs moving forward. They currently sit at 1-2 and will host the Titans in Week 4.

A UDFA out of Miami, Carter spent two years with the Broncos. He missed all of the 2018 season and was moved to linebacker in training camp. The Broncos waived him prior to the regular season’s outset, however, leading him to the Falcons’ taxi squad. Carter is back at safety and will likely fill in as a backup for the Falcons, who also lost J.J. Wilcox to a season-ending injury earlier this year.

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Falcons Notes: Julio, Neal, Allen, Smith

We learned earlier today that the Falcons may already have a new deal in place for star receiver Julio Jones, but GM Thomas Dimitroff declined to put a timetable on the negotiations. As Vaughn McClure of writes, Dimitroff did express optimism that the two sides would reach an accord.

Dimitroff said, “[w]e have the utmost faith that Julio is coming here and he’s taking care of his business while he’s here, and we’ll keep plugging away with [Jones’ agent] Jimmy [Sexton]. We have a very good working relationship and respect for Jimmy Sexton and CAA, and I’m confident [the deal] will get done.”

Sexton could not be reached for comment, but after getting long-term deals for Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones done this month, it looks like the Falcons will give Julio Jones his new contract in short order.

Now for more from Atlanta:

  • We heard back in May that the Falcons’ starting safety tandem of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, who suffered major injuries that ended their 2018 seasons prematurely, were expected to be ready for training camp, and that turned out to be true. As Ledbetter writes, Allen returned to the practice field Monday and went through most of the team drills, and Emmanuel Morgan of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Neal has participated in drills and has taken reps with the first-team defense. Unfortunately, the club lost backup safety J.J. Wilcox for the season after he tore his ACL on Monday.
  • The Falcons plan to expand RB Ito Smith‘s role this season, as Morgan writes in a separate piece. Smith will serve as the club’s No. 2 back behind Devonta Freeman, and he will look to improve his pass protection and his ability to hit holes at full speed while continuing to refine his abilities as a pass catcher. Running backs coach Matt Brock hinted that the club may only carry three RBs, so the battle for the No. 3 spot behind Freeman and Smith is one that he expects to be highly competitive.
  • Defensive lineman Michael Bennett suffered a broken ankle on Monday, but he could return this season, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets.
  • The Falcons signed veteran DL Allen Bailey yesterday.

NFC South Notes: Little, Falcons, Grayson

The Panthers traded up in the second round of the 2019 draft to land Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little, and as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk writes, Carolina’s left tackle job is seemingly Little’s to lose. The Panthers deployed Taylor Moton on the blindside last season, but GM Marty Hurney‘s preference is to have Moton play right tackle. Daryl Williams is still in the mix for a spot on the right side of the line, but the club appears prepared to pencil in Little as its starting LT, which would make the rookie a key figure in the Panthers’ 2019 fortunes.

Now for more from the NFC South:

  • The Falcons have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with franchise-tagged defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, but GM Thomas Dimitroff recently conceded that Jarrett may play out the 2019 campaign under the tag, which suggests that the two sides still aren’t particularly close on a new contract. Dimitroff said (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), “I’m confident that something will get done one way or the other. If it doesn’t, we have a year to continue to talk about it.”
  • The Falcons‘ starting safety tandem of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, who are recovering from major injuries that ended their 2018 seasons prematurely, are both expected to be at full strength by the time training camp begins in July, as Ledbetter notes in a separate piece.
  • The Saints tried out former LSU track star Cyril Grayson yesterday, as Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune tweets. Grayson has spent time with the Seahawks, Colts, and Bears, but he has yet to see regular season action.

Falcons Pick Up Keanu Neal’s Option

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option on safety Keanu Neal’s contract, per a team announcement. This was yet another no-brainer fifth-year option decision. 

The 23-year-old (24 in July) has started in all of his games since entering the league as the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2017, Neal earned a Pro Bowl nod after racking up 113 tackles, six passes defensed, four tackles for a loss, and one interception. His much anticipated follow-up was wiped out by an ACL tear last year, but he’s set to get back to work in 2019.

A fun fact from the Falcons’ press release: Since the fifth-year option for first-round picks was instituted in 2011, the Falcons have exercised the fifth-year option on each player they’ve selected in the first round. Overall, that’s a good indicator of the Falcons’ success rate inside of the first 32 picks.

Click here for a full rundown of every fifth-year option decision on 2016 first-round picks.

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Falcons To Pick Up Keanu Neal’s Option

The Falcons will pick up strong safety Keanu Neal‘s fifth-year option, GM Thomas Dimitroff tells Vaughn McClure of (on Twitter).The exact numbers aren’t in yet, but it should be for about $6.7MM and keep him under club control through 2020. The pact, guaranteed for injury only, will become fully guaranteed on the first day of the ’20 league year. 

The Falcons have until May 3 to give Neal official notice on the option, but they did not need that much time to deliberate. They also aren’t overly concerned about the ACL tear which limited him to just one game last season. All indications are that Neal will be ready for training camp, along with fellowed injured standouts Devonta Freeman and Ricardo Allen.

Neal, 24 in July, made the Pro Bowl in 2017 after making 113 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Neal has forced eight fumbles in his career to date and has two 100-tackle seasons under his belt. He’s one of the more impressive young secondary players in the NFL and the Falcons intend to keep him around for a long time.

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Falcons Place Keanu Neal On IR

The Falcons have placed safety Keanu Neal on injured reserve and signed defensive end Steven Means, the club announced today.

Neal suffered a torn ACL in Atlanta’s season opener on Thursday night and will subsequently miss the entire 2018 campaign. The former first-round pick had started 30 games over his first two NFL seasons, but he’ll now be replaced by 2017 draft pick Damontae Kazee. The Falcons could conceivably target a free agent like Eric Reid, or a trade candidate such as Earl Thomas, but there’s been no indication as of yet that Atlanta will head in that direction.

Means, who turns 28 years old this week, was a preseason star for the Eagles, as he posted three sacks in the club’s final exhibition game. His regular season track record is much more spotty, as he’s appeared in just 26 games since entering the league in 2013. Means, who has spent time with the Buccaneers and Ravens in addition to the Eagles, will boost an Atlanta edge rush that already includes Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley, among others.

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Falcons S Keanu Neal Suffers Torn ACL

Keanu Neal‘s injury during Thursday night’s season-opening game proved to be significant. The Falcons safety is now out for the season after being diagnosed with a torn ACL, Adam Schefter of reports (on Twitter).

The third-year defender left the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the Eagles, and he’ll now spend the rest of the 2018 season rehabbing his left knee post-surgery. This is a key blow to a talented Falcons secondary.

The Falcons did not expect this diagnosis, per’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter), ordering an MRI as a precaution. They’re now down a top young talent. The team announced Neal is done for the year.

The youngest player in a starting secondary that now features each of its other cogs signed long-term, the 23-year-old Neal emerged as a Day 1 starter after being a 2016 first-round pick. He earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2017 after making 113 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Neal’s forced eight fumbles in his career and has two 100-tackle seasons under his belt.

Atlanta has second-year man Damontae Kazee and recent trade acquisition Jordan Richards slotted as safety backups.

If the team wants to look for outside help, the obvious top candidate is Eric Reid. But he’s currently involved in a collusion grievance against the league after teams shied away from him in free agency this offseason. However, the stakes are high for the 2018 Falcons. Might that prompt them to reach out to arguably the top free agent available? Dan Quinn also coached Earl Thomas during his days as Seahawks DC, and Thomas has let it be known he remains at odds with his team, despite ending his holdout earlier this week.

The Falcons are now 0-1 in a key season for the franchise, with Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta and the team standing as one of the top contenders in a loaded NFC. This is obviously a tough development to start the year.

In other Falcons injury news, however, Devonta Freeman did not sustain a serious knee injury Thursday night, Rapoport adds. He’s expected to be fine going forward.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons’ Keanu Neal To Make Debut Monday

17th overall pick Keanu Neal will make his NFL debut for the Falcons on Monday night against the Saints, head coach Dan Quinn told reporters, including Vaughn McClure of Quinn said Neal “will play a lot,” tweets D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but won’t be on the field for every snap.Keanu Neal

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Neal will likely split snaps with fellow safety Kemal Ishmael, who’s seen action on nearly every defensive play this season while filling in for Neal, who has been sidelined since late August with a knee injury. Ishmael has produced at a slightly below average level, grading as the league’s No. 39 safety among 70 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus. Atlanta’s defense as a whole, however, could certainly use a boost, as they’ve ranked 30th in DVOA through two games.

Back in August, PFR’s scouting guru Dave-Te Thomas lauded Neal’s playmaking ability while looking at the Falcons’ Impact Rookies:

Neal is a smooth, fluid mover who has done quite a nice job of making plays at the opposite side of the field, thanks to his burst, second gear, and ability to sift through traffic to get to the ball. He shows excellent ball reactionary skills, along with the quick decision-making process to close on the play with good urgency. He can change direction in an instant and does a nice job of maintaining position when challenged by lead blockers assisting vs. the ground game.

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Falcons To Work Out Dashon Goldson

12:20pm: General manager Thomas Dimitroff told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the team is working to sign Goldson to a contract (Twitter link). The reporter notes that coach Dan Quinn is still leaning towards starting Ishmael in Neal’s absence, even if the team does add Goldson.

10:05am: With the Falcons seeking some reinforcement in their defensive backfield, the team will be bringing in a veteran safety for a workout.’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Dashon Goldson will be trying out for the Falcons today. The team was seeking depth at the position following a knee injury to first-rounder Keanu Neal.

Dashon Goldson (vertical)After having played for the 49ers for six seasons, Goldson has bounced around a bit recently. The 31-year-old has played for three teams over the past four seasons, but he’s only missed six games during that span. The veteran actually had one of his most productive seasons in 2015 with the Redskins, compiling a career-high 110 tackles. The two-time Pro Bowler has averaged nearly two interceptions and one forced fumble a season throughout his nine-year career. Goldson was released by Washington in March, and he garnered some interest from the Rams.

Neal, a first-round pick out of Florida, was projected to be the Falcons’ starting safety. However, knee surgery is expected to sideline the rookie for about a month. Long-time Falcons safety William Moore was pushing for a return to Atlanta, but recent reports indicated that the organization has little interest in a reunion. Current backup safety Kemal Ishmael is battling a shoulder injury, and the team recently added veteran Sergio Brown for some additional depth.