Keanu Neal Reportedly Not Expected to Receive Franchise Tag from Falcons

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) lines up during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 21-16. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Danny Karnik/Associated Press

The Atlanta Falcons aren't planning to place the franchise tag on veteran safety Keanu Neal, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Neal finished with 97 tackles, two passes defended, one sack and one interception in 2020.

Over the Cap estimates the franchise tag for a safety to be worth nearly $11.2 million for the 2021 season.

Neal showed promise early in his career, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2017. Then, he was limited to four games acrosss 2018 and 2019, suffering a torn ACL and a torn Achilles tendon.

Between those two injuries and his performance last season, it comes as little surprise the Falcons aren't yet prepared to pay the 25-year-old like one of the game's top safeties. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 72 free agent on the board:

"A former first-round pick, Neal found his home immediately as a traditional strong safety in the Falcons’ Cover 1/Cover 3 scheme. He made an impact from Day 1, flying around the field in the run game and showing good range against underneath routes when playing zone. Unfortunately, injuries limited Neal to just 213 snaps across 2018 and 2019, but he was healthy once again in 2020, grading out at 68.2 overall. Neal is a classic box safety who does his best work around the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the field, and his future team should look for him to play a similar role."

Spotrac also estimates Atlanta to be $15.9 million over the salary cap (using a $185 million cap), so general manager Terry Fontenot will need to be a bit frugal.

Should this be the end for Neal on the Falcons, his departure would continue what was a string of poor NFL draft returns under Fontenot's predecessor, Thomas Dimitroff:

Justin Felder @Justin_FOX5

This is kind of crazy: If Keanu Neal leaves, only 1 player the #Falcons drafted in the first 4 rounds from 2015-2017 will still be with the team. (It's Deion Jones, for those wondering.) https://t.co/dsWhZrA1Y8

Once he officially hits the open market, the Dallas Cowboys could be a logical landing spot for Neal.

Free safety is an area Dallas needs to address through free agency or the draft, and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn took over as the Cowboys defensive coordinator in January.