On April 4th Ryan Neal signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a contract that paid the vet minimum and was seen as a good signing based on how Neal played his previous season with the Seahawks in a part-time starting role. Neal finished the year with 10 games started (14 games played), 1 Interception, 1 sack, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 4 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, and 66 total tackles. Those numbers are overall good and provided a great opportunity for Neal to showcase what he could do as a potential starting safety in this league.
“My goal was just to show the league that I’m a legit starter. I’m a starting safety. I want to come here and add value to the defense – I never want to take away from a room, you always want to add to it. I can’t wait to meet my teammates, the rest of my coaches – anywhere I can add value, that’s my whole goal this year.” - Ryan Neal
Now Neal is not new to the Tampa area as he has been training down here the past couple of seasons while with Seattle and Atlanta. The Seahawks actually had originally placed the restricted free-agent tender on Neal but rescinded it to move in a different direction.
“It’s funny – it’s not really a welcome. I’ve been telling people, I’ve been down here for the past four to five years – I train down here. It’s like home, part two, to me. This is a sweet opportunity, for real. I couldn’t pass it up – I could not pass it up. Like I said, what better place to be than Tampa? I love it down here, love the energy and the familiarity. I’m glad to be here.” - Ryan Neal
This gave the Buccaneers the opportunity to come in with a deal and bring in a player who could start for them after the team let Keanu Neal (left in free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers), Mike Edwards (left in free agency for the Kansas City Chiefs), and Logan Ryan (still a free agent) all hit the open market this offseason. The need was there for the Bucs to bring in another safety to possibly pair with Antoine Winfield Jr. and the team got a player they are very excited about.
“I’m very excited about him and just his desire to want to be here.” - Jason Licht
When looking deeper into the advanced stats of Ryan Neal from the previous season, there is a lot to be excited about and reason to believe that Neal can be a legitimate starting safety for the Buccaneers this upcoming season. Neal allowed only a 50% completion percentage on passes thrown his way on 52 total times targeted. He also finished with a QB rating of 63.9 on the season when targeted along with allowing only 7.3 yards per completion. He was also used slightly as a rusher being sent on a blitz 10 total times for 1 sack and 1 QB pressure. Given Neal’s size of 6’3 and 200 pounds expect much more Blitzing for Neal in his first season in Tampa Bay but also expect a player who has very good coverage ability as well.
Neal has a fantastic opportunity to be a starter for the Bucs for the next couple of seasons at only 27 years old if he is able to make an impression. We have seen the Bucs benefit greatly from prove it deals in the past with Shaq Barrett and others and I believe that Neal can be the next player to prove to not just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the NFL as a whole that he belongs as a starter in the league.
It’s everything you’ve been working for. My first three years were, ‘Ok, can I scratch a roster?’ I’m trying to make a roster, I’m trying to make a team. You finally make a team then you get your role on special teams and it was like, ‘Alright, let me just do my role here, ball out here, make noise, affect the game.’ When push comes to shove, you start getting little opportunities. It’s definitely great to finally get a chance to try and put it all together – all the things that I’ve learned and all the things that I’ve been through: grinding it out, undrafted, all of that. I’ve been through kind of the roughest way to get here to this point. It makes you grateful, but it also sets you apart and I understand that. I wear that with a badge of pride. Just being able to come here and finally get the chance, it’s an opportunity – it’s what I was looking for and I found it. It’s time to take advantage of it.” - Ryan Neal