Fitzpatrick had to make his exit early into the team’s loss to the Jaguars back in October with a hamstring injury. Pittsburgh didn’t think they would need to place its veteran safety on IR, hoping to see him return sooner rather than later, but after four weeks without their vocal leader, gaining an extra roster spot by placing him on IR would’ve been the preferred move in retrospect.
The extended absence is the first of Fitzpatrick’s storied career. In the five and a half seasons until this absence, Fitzpatrick has appeared in 86 of a possible 89 games, starting in 81. Fitpatrick had never missed consecutive games either, with the three absences being one-game situations. Even when the former Dolphin was traded two weeks into the season from Miami, he was in black and yellow six days later without missing a snap.
In Fitzpatrick’s first multi-game absence, the team had to promote practice squad safety Trenton Thompson to the active roster. Keanu Neal and Elijah Riley were filling in the first few weeks before finding their way to IR. Thompson has performed well for being thrown into the fire, but the Steelers will be excited to return Fitzpatrick next to strong safety Damontae Kazee this weekend.
In order to make room on the roster, Pittsburgh has placed starting safety Keanu Neal on injured reserve. Neal joined his fourth team in as many years this offseason and has made the most of it, becoming a starter for the Steelers. He hasn’t had the strongest season, grading out as the league’s 62nd-best safety, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Neal’s absence will likely mean a bigger role for fellow safety Damontae Kazee, who was teammates with Neal from 2017-2021 during stints in Atlanta and Dallas.
Lastly, the Steelers announced their standard gameday practice squad elevations for tomorrow’s game in Cleveland. The team will promote LB Tariq Carpenter and safety Trenton Thompson for the matchup. Thompson’s callup fills out the depth chart a bit with Neal gone. Carpenter will team up with Walker to provide some reinforcements at linebacker with Alexander hurt.
NOVEMBER 18, 8:45am: The quick ramp-up period will be sufficient for the Steelers, who will activate Freiermuth at the earliest opportunity. Freiermuth will end up spending the minimum four games on IR, with NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero indicating he will move back onto Pittsburgh’s active roster before this afternoon’s deadline. While the former second-round pick has not played since Week 4, a hamstring aggravation is responsible for the extended absence. This transaction will leave the Steelers with four IR activations remaining.
NOVEMBER 15: Pat Freiermuth‘s third NFL season has not gone as hoped, but the Steelers are moving closer to having their tight end ready for the stretch run. The team designated the young pass catcher for return Wednesday.
This will start Feiermuth’s 21-day activation clock. The Steelers placed Freiermuth on IR due to a hamstring injury last month. While Freiermuth did not initially land on IR due to the injury, an aggravation led to the Steelers moving him off their 53-man roster.
The Steelers have moved to 6-3 despite persistent struggles on offense, but the team has missed Freiermuth and Diontae Johnson for extended chunks of the season. Johnson returned from his hamstring injury weeks ago, and it appears another activation will soon commence after a hamstring malady. This will be good news for Kenny Pickett, who targeted the 2021 second-round pick frequently in his first season as Pittsburgh’s starter.
Last year, Freiermuth finished with 63 receptions for 732 yards and two touchdowns. While his yards-per-reception and touchdown numbers were down compared to his rookie year, the Penn State product’s yardage total dwarfed his rookie-year number (497). Pickett and Mitch Trubisky targeted the talented tight end regularly, and the Steelers came into this season expecting another steady showing from the 6-foot-5 weapon.
Freiermuth has not played since Week 4, and he struggled to find his footing in the latest Matt Canada-run Pittsburgh offense. Freiermuth finished three games with fewer than 10 receiving yards, and although Week 4 involved an early exit, Weeks 1 and 2 brought sluggish outings. Freiermuth has eight receptions for 53 yards and two TDs this season. In his absence, the Steelers have seen Connor Heyward work as their top receiving tight end. The second-year option has 17 catches for 137 yards. Third-round rookie Darnell Washington has not factored in prominently, exiting Week 10 with three grabs for 23 yards.
Keanu Neal will be part of a fourth team in four seasons. Per his agency, the former first-round pick is signing a two-year deal with the Steelers (Twitter link). Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the first to report Neal was on the verge of signing with Pittsburgh (Twitter link).
The five-year Falcons starter has bounced to the Cowboys and Buccaneers since his Atlanta run ended after the 2020 season. Going into his age-28 season, Neal will soon have a chance to make his mark in the AFC. Neal, a former No. 17 overall pick, met with the Eagles recently. But Philly ended up signing former Steelers first-round pick Terrell Edmunds.
During an offseason in which they also added versatile veteran Logan Ryan, the Bucs added Neal on a one-year deal worth the league minimum. He played all 18 Tampa Bay games, starting eight, and finished with 63 tackles (two for loss), an interception and four pass deflections. Neal added a career-high five QB hits.
The Cowboys used Neal more at linebacker in 2021, after he finished with three 100-plus-tackle seasons with the Falcons. Aligned more at safety with the Bucs, Neal ranked 70th at the position (in the view of Pro Football Focus). PFF, which did not like Neal’s linebacker work in Dallas, did rank him as a top-12 pass rusher (among safeties) in Tampa.
In Atlanta, Neal started 48 games and earned a Pro Bowl nod as an alternate in 2017. In his 2020 Falcons contract year, the former Florida Gator registered nine tackles for loss. Despite high tackle numbers, Neal has been unable to parlay his run as a Falcons starter — a stretch that included a Super Bowl LI outing — into a long-term contract.
Neal will join a Steelers team that has made some changes at linebacker and safety. The Steelers have made some adjustments at the Minkah Fitzpatrick-fronted position group and moved on from both Myles Jack and Devin Bush on their defensive second level. They made an offer to keep Edmunds, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly notes (subscription required), though it likely was a low-end proposal. The Eagles added Edmunds on a one-year, $2MM deal with just $600K guaranteed. Pittsburgh also reached a two-year agreement to retain Damontae Kazee, who will collect nearly double the guaranteed money Edmunds will. The Steelers gave Kazee a two-year, $6MM deal with $1.75MM guaranteed.
Neal will join Fitzpatrick and Kazee on the Steelers’ back line. His experience as a box defender and in coverage could give Pittsburgh some options.
As the initial surge of free agency has died down a bit, there are still several assets available on the market. The Giants have been fairly active in free agency and have had quite a few free agents visit for evaluations.
The team also decided to check out a potential depth piece for the secondary in former Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minnesota. Boyd was able to provide some defensive depth as a seventh-round draft pick out of Texas for the Vikings, but his true value in Minnesota came on special teams, an added benefit that should help him find a roster spot moving forward.
If you thought the Giants had enough receivers, they clearly don’t agree as they reportedly hosted former Raiders and Falcons wideout Bryan Edwards, according to Jordan Schultz of theScore. Edwards barely played last year after getting traded to Atlanta and signing to the Chiefs’ practice squad, but he gets a chance to compete for serious snaps in New York. The Giants have a bevy of wide receivers but lack any sure-handed starters. The team returns Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, David Sills, and Collin Johson but has added Parris Campbell, Jamison Crowder, and Jeff Smith in free agency. It looks like a collection of strong No. 3 and 4 receivers that lacks the talent of a strong No. 1 or 2. This provides Edwards a window to perform well and earn playing time.
Lastly, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, the team hosted linebacker Justin Hollins, who started five games for the Rams last year. Hollins would be another potential depth piece for the Giants’ defense.
Here are a few other workout rumors from around the league:
The Seahawks may be looking to replace some defensive line depth after losing defensive endL.J. Collier to free agency. Seattle hosted veteran defensive end Mario Edwards earlier this week, according to Yates. Edwards is looking to join potentially his sixth franchise since entering the league. He started seven games for the Titans last year.
Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, who last appeared in an NFL game in 2020 with the Ravens, is seeking a return to the NFL. Fluker spent 2021 on three different teams’ practice squads, but after getting released from the Jaguars’ on New Year’s Eve 2021, he has remained a free agent for over a year. According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Fluker worked out at Alabama’s pro day this year with top prospects Bryce Young and Will Anderson. The workout drew some attention from NFL teams and could help Fluker make it back to the league.
After a year back in Dan Quinn‘s system, Keanu Neal will return to the NFC South. The veteran defender is signing with the Buccaneers, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
Neal moved to linebacker during his year with the Cowboys, but the longtime Falcons safety has switched back to his initial NFL position. That appears to be where Todd Bowles sees him. Despite being a seventh-year veteran, Neal is 26. He stands to give the Bucs another veteran presence in a safety group that added Logan Ryan this offseason.
Although Neal was on a Cowboys team that housed Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith entering last season, he played 61% of Dallas’ defensive snaps. The Cowboys cut Smith and used Parsons as a pass rusher frequently, helping lead to Neal’s snap rate despite just five starts. Neal registered 72 tackles (four for loss) in 14 games last season. The Cowboys re-signed Vander Esch last month.
A central Florida native and former Florida Gator, Neal spent five years with the Falcons after coming into the NFL as a top-20 pick. He has been more valuable as a tackler than a cover man, but the ex-Super Bowl starter has a Pro Bowl on his resume (2017). Neal has also bounced back from two injury-nullified seasons, having played just four games from 2018-19. He made at least 100 tackles in his other three Falcons seasons.
The Bucs lost starter Jordan Whitehead in free agency but now have two veterans joining Antoine Winfield Jr. at safety. Both Ryan and Neal have notable histories at other positions, with the former being a cornerback for years to start his career. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs deploy their new arrivals next season.
Neal spent five seasons in Atlanta as a safety, with three of those years being healthy. In all three of those healthy seasons, Neal topped 100 tackles, collecting 15.0 tackles for loss combined in those seasons, as well. So the position move initiated by Dallas made sense based on his tackling prowess.
In his lone year as a linebacker, Neal was third on the team in playing time and tackles among the linebackers behind Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons and former-Pro Bowler Leighton Vander Esch. Parsons and Vander Esch functioned as the teams two starters with Neal playing a significant role as the first linebacker off the bench.
Now hitting the free agent market, and likely seeing the lack of movement for linebackers in free agency, Neal is prepared to make the move back to safety. Neal never quite got to his goal linebacker weight of 222 lb., so he should have no issue getting into safety-shape. Whatever position he signs as, his role on any new team will likely remain similar as a tackling machine with coverage ability.
Micah Parsons landed on the Cowboys’ reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday due to a positive test. With this news coming four days before the Cowboys’ recently rescheduled Week 18 matchup, Parsons’ regular season is likely over.
The NFL slid the Cowboys’ regular-season-ending Eagles matchup to Saturday. Even with the NFL’s revised protocols, Parsons will likely not be in uniform again until his team’s playoff opener. Week 18 stands to be Parsons’ first absence this season.
While the Cowboys’ Week 17 loss prevented them from vying for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the NFC East champions could still obtain the conference’s Nos. 2 or 3 seeds. However, they would need to win and see the Rams and Buccaneers lose to move up. A win and a Rams loss to the 49ers would vault the Cowboys to the No. 3 slot. The Bucs are less likely to drop, having opened as 9.5-point home favorites against the Panthers.
As for Parsons, he has likely sewn up the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honor. The Penn State product has been a revelation for the Cowboys, registering 13 sacks and an NFL-leading 20 tackles for loss while playing both linebacker and defensive end. No rookie has won Defensive Player of the Year acclaim since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. Oddsmakers peg sack leader T.J. Watt as the favorite for that award. Parsons, who has helped the Cowboys vault from 28th to seventh in scoring defense from 2020 to this season, has the second-best odds for the award.
The Cowboys will have a bit more help at linebacker in Philadelphia. They activated Keanu Neal from their virus list Wednesday. Neal missed Week 17 due to COVID-19.