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Report: Falcons to pick up Keanu Neal’s fifth-year option for 2020

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At the cost, it looks like a bargain.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons don’t have a lot of easy calls this offseason, but here’s one they made with what one assumes was a minimal amount of debate: Picking up Keanu Neal’s fifth-year option.

Neal’s physical style of play opens him to injury, sure, and he spent the majority of the 2018 season on the shelf. When he’s on the field, he’s a physical tone setter capable of forcing turnovers, and the defense is clearly better when he’s playing. That’s why spending just $6.7 million on him in 2020, when his fifth year option kicks in, is about as easy a call as you can possibly make. He’s well on his way to being healthy for training camp for Atlanta this upcoming year.

In 31 NFL games (14 in 2016, 16 in 2017, 1 in 2018), Neal has amassed 220 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, 14 pass deflections, an interception and eight forced fumbles, with that last stat owing to his ability to hit so hard he jars the ball loose. He’s quietly been quite good in coverage, especially in 2017, and his lowlight reel really just includes parts of his rookie season and that deeply unfortunate missed interception off his knee in the playoff game against the Eagles. He’s one of the best defenders on the team, full stop, and you saw just how much the Falcons missed him this year.

The Falcons are going to have to navigate a thorny fifth-year option situation this very offseason with Vic Beasley, who has underperformed throughout much of his career and is owed $12.8 million unless the Falcons can convince him to sign an extension worth less in 2019 or cut him outright. But Neal has been consistently good to great when he’s played, and injury seems to be the only thing that could make picking up this option not seem like a great idea. May he be healthy and effective this coming season, in 2020, and beyond.