After bringing back some key free agents this offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost one on defense to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s been a pretty decent offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially in the face of how things could have gone. Tom Brady retired and the team needed to untangle a $55 million salary cap knot, which meant likely losing some key free agents either because of the money situation or the loss of the allure Brady brought.
Despite how dark things appeared they might be, the Buccaneers front office pulled off a few miracles. Jamel Dean, who seemed sure to leave as the top cornerback on the market, was re-signed to a four-year, $52 million contract and Lavonte David was re-signed to a multi-year deal that’s backloaded with void years.
In addition to bringing those guys back, the Bucs signed Baker Mayfield and Chase Edmonds, but all of that spending meant that the other shoe would have to drop on guys the team wouldn’t be able to bring back.
Mike Edwards left for a cheap deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and Sean Murphy-Bunting signed with the Tennessee Titans. Now another key defensive player has left Tampa Bay as Keanu Neal has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Buccaneers lose Keanu Neal to Steelers in free agency
According to the agency that represents Neal reported the deal on Thursday.
The loss of Neal is a bit more significant than it might seem. He played 52 percent of defensive snaps, and was a key piece of rotational depth for Todd Bowles on defense. The same can be said for the loss of Edwards and Murphy-Bunting, as all three players contributed in their own way to making the Buccaneers defense one of the consistently best units in the league over the last three years (although Neal didn’t arrive until 2021).
Losing Neal means the Buccaneers are down to just one safety who has been with the team longer than a year. Nolan Turner is the only free safety on the roster with the only strong safety under contract being Antoine Winfield Jr.
That’s not great, and there won’t be an influx of veteran experience anytime soon. With a shallow free agency pool, the NFL Draft has been viewed as the best way for the Bucs to address the lack of depth in the secondary. The No. 19 overall pick might be used on one of the top safeties in the draft, or one could be found on Day 2, but whoever starts next to Winfield Jr. next season is going to be green with experience and expected to step up in a big way.