NY Jets showing interest in free-agent safety Keanu Neal

NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets could be looking to make additional moves on defense this free-agency period. And one player the team has been connected to in recent days is safety Keanu Neal.

As reported by Josina Anderson on Tuesday, the Jets are one of six teams showing “preliminary interest” in Neal along with the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts.

Neal is one of the best safeties on the open market and has experience playing under new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. For that reason, it isn’t a surprise to hear that the Jets are interested.

They’ll have some competition, but if the Jets could land Neal, it would provide a major boost to a defensive unit that took a step back in 2020.

How would Keanu Neal fit with the NY Jets?

A first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2016 NFL Draft, Neal looked well on his way to stardom after a pair of very impressive seasons to start his NFL career including one that netted him a Pro Bowl nod in 2017.

However, the former Florida star encountered about as bad of injury luck as you could imagine in each of the next two seasons.

Neal tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2018 season knocking him out for the year. And in the subsequent season, he tore his Achilles just three games in.

Two years of his career gone in the blink of an eye.

But Neal returned with a vengeance in 2020 as he put together a quality season now that he was finally healthy. The 25-year-old finished with a 68.2 Pro Football Focus grade that ranked 33rd at his position.

And there’s reason to believe that he will be even better two years removed from his injuries.

Neal is a versatile player who excelled in the box, but is far from a liability in coverage. In fact, according to Anderson, Neal is open to playing linebacker and that idea has come up in conversations with teams.

That’s certainly an intriguing role he could fill with the Jets.

The Jets brought back Marcus Maye, a college teammate of Neal’s, on the franchise tag this offseason and the expectation was that he would start alongside 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis.

But with Neal in the fold, things could change.

The Jets could play Neal at his natural strong safety position while Maye moves back to free safety full-time. They could also shift him to linebacker on passing downs while Davis takes over at safety.

There’s so much that Ulbrich and head coach Robert Saleh could do with those three players that the idea of adding Neal is incredibly appealing.

Next. NY Jets 2021 Free Agency Live Tracker: Latest signings, re-signings, cuts

The Jets have interest. Don’t be surprised if they make a strong push to sign Keanu Neal.