A slow, deliberate start to 2021 free agency by the Dallas Cowboys has begun picking up steam. They signed three separate players to their needy defensive line, hinting strongly at what they were readying to do next, and they've now seen the first domino fall in part two of their plan: fixing the secondary. The team has successfully wooed safety Keanu Neal into agreeing to terms on a one-year, $5 million deal, a source confirms to CBS Sports, stealing him away from the New York Jets in the process.
Neal had an offer on the table from several teams but narrowed it down to those two, before ultimately deciding to reunite with Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt, Jr. -- both having coached him prior to leaving the Atlanta Falcons to take on the role of defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, respectively. With the addition of Neal, they'll turn their attention to trying to seal the deal with two other prominent names in free agency, namely Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker.
, sources say.
The team hopes to land two of the three, knowing they can utilize Neal in the role of weakside linebacker, something he was considering playing full-time with the Jets. On its face, Neal enters Dallas as a dual-threat talent now, as opposed to simply being viewed as the answer beside breakout star Donovan Wilson, which explains the interest in both/either Kazee and Hooker even after making an offer to Neal. And, when healthy, Neal has proven he can impact games in a big way.
Being available for 14 games in 2020 went a long way in dispelling at least a good chunk of the Cowboys concerns about his durability, with Quinn and Whitt doing the rest. The one-year deal will allow him to show what he can do before re-entering free agency in 2021, and it also allows the Cowboys a chance to keep a handle on their cap space as they begin ramping up their free agency spending in the third and tertiary wave, while also free them up to mix things up in the linebacker corps.
Neal entered the NFL as the 17th-overall pick in 2016, a draft overseen by Quinn. He burst onto the scene, landing both a Pro Bowl nod and PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in his first year out, playing in 14 games that season followed by 16 in Year 2 before injury began to slow his progress -- suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2018 and a season-ending torn Achilles in 2019. As stated, however, he was back to physical form last season, and Quinn had him on the radar the instant the former Falcons head coach signed on Dallas' dotted line in January, .
The short-term deal works for both sides on all fronts, and now the club gets back to work on others they'd like to add to the roster, having now secured one of the top free agents available.