There’s been some chatter lately about the Falcons possibly cutting ties with Keanu Neal to help right the cap ship in 2020 and beyond. In a league that focuses almost exclusively on what you’ve done lately, Neal’s injury-shortened 2018 and 2019 campaigns have relegated him to the disposable category; a truly unfortunate series of the events for the 24 year old.
Where does Neal stand contractually?
The Falcons exercised Neal’s 5th year option last April and it is “guaranteed for injury.” All first round draft picks are signed to 4-year contracts with a 5th year team option. If a team has picked up a particular player’s 5th year option, and the player is subsequently injured but still recovering from the injury, then the team cannot cut the player without also paying his full salary.
Neal tore his achilles in mid-September last year, about 6 months after the Falcons exercised his 5th year option. That means if he isn’t fully recovered by the start of the new league year, then he gets his money, no matter what. For what it’s worth, it’s a different situation entirely if a player suffers the injury at issue before the 5th year option is ever picked up (e.g., Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings). In that scenario, the contract just expires after the 4th year. The Falcons can cut Neal if they so choose but they’re paying him, whether they want to or not.
So to be clear: unless Neal is healthy by the start of the new league year, the Falcons cannot cut him and save money.
How much is Keanu Neal’s 5th year option going to cost the Falcons?
Any former first rounder whose 5th year option is picked up gets an averaged salary. If you’re picked in the top ten, then you get the average salary of the top ten best paid players at your position. If you’re picked outside the top ten, then you get the average salary of the 3rd to 25th best paid players at your position. That puts Neal at $6.46 million.
What is “the new league year” and why does it matter?
The new league year begins March 18th. It’s an important date, if only because that’s when free agency kicks off. It’s also the date by which Neal would need to be fully recovered for the Falcons to have an out. A ruptured achilles is not an easy injury to come back from and recovery can sometimes consume the better part of a year. Just ask Ricardo Allen, who successfully navigated the same recovery last offseason. The bottom line is this: There’s no way Neal will be able to pass a physical in March. He’s going to be in the middle of his rehab at that point. And it’s certainly worth noting how relatively quiet the team has remained about his recovery to this point.