NY Jets: Keanu Neal listed as a rumored free agent target

NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets are expected to participate in a much more active free agency period this time around. And one player who reportedly could pique their interest is former Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal.

The Jets were notably quiet in free agency last year with general manager Joe Douglas opting for short-term, inexpensive deals as opposed to targeting some of the bigger names on the market.

Instead of Byron Jones, Douglas settled for Pierre Desir. Instead of Jack Conklin, the Jets opted for George Fant. In some aspects, their savings paid off. In others, not so much — here’s looking at you, Robby Anderson.

Nonetheless, with a boatload of cap space and an eye on improving the roster in a big way, things are expected to be very different this offseason. And if that’s the case, Neal makes a ton of sense as a possible target.

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Keanu Neal makes sense as a target for the NY Jets

While most will likely focus on names such as Allen Robinson and Joe Thuney — players who play bigger positions of need — fans shouldn’t be so quick to discount Neal as a possible upgrade.

The Jets have an important decision to make on safety Marcus Maye this offseason. Maye is coming off the best year of his NFL career and will likely be looking for a sizable payday in free agency.

Given Maye’s stellar play, it would make sense to bring him back. That isn’t where Neal fits into the equation. The expectation is that Neal could and would start opposite Maye at the strong safety position.

ESPN’s Rich Cimini listed Neal as a possible free-agent target given his experience with new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. In fact, Cimini went as far as to say he’d “be surprised if the Jets don’t show interest in the Falcons’ safety.”

A first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Neal wasted little time establishing himself as one of the best young safeties in football making the Pro Bowl in just his second season. Unfortunately, things would go downhill from there.

Neal tore his ACL in the Falcons’ 2018 season opener and would miss the rest of the season as a result. And then just three games into the 2019 season, Neal suffered a torn Achilles that sidelined him again.

Just like that, the once-promising young Pro Bowler had two prime years wiped away in the blink of an eye. But in 2020, Neal returned to form, and while he may not have been as good as he was before the injuries, he was still a very important piece of Atlanta’s defense.

At just 25-years-old and now two years removed from the injuries, Neal could garner some interest on the open market. Notably, Maye and Neal were teammates at Florida for three years so they have plenty of experience playing alongside one another.

Of course, the presence of 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis is something to consider. Would the Jets be willing to abandon the Davis experiment after just one season?

Davis was overwhelmed at times during his rookie year, but his ceiling remains sky-high due to his athleticism. Most have likely already penciled Davis in as a starter for the 2021 season.

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But Keanu Neal could change that. And it seems like the Jets might show some interest.