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Steelers Transactions

Steelers Cut Ties with Veteran Safety Keanu Neal



Steelers SS Keanu Neal
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Keanu Neal talks with coach Grady Brown during the team's game against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 12, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers have released strong safety Keanu Neal with a failed physical designation, the team announced on Thursday.

Neal, 28, had one season remaining on his Steelers contract. Neal suffered what was initially reported as a rib injury during the team’s Week 9 win over the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 12. While head coach Mike Tomlin repeatedly refused to rule Neal out for the remainder of the season, he never returned to practice with the team. Neal himself declined to speak about the nature of his injury and was rarely seen around the team in the final weeks of the 2023 season.

Releasing Neal saves the Steelers $2.25 million in salary cap space while introducing a $460,000 dead salary cap hit. The Steelers still have starting safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee under contract for the 2024 season.

Neal and Kazee were expected to step into the void created when longtime starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds left for free agency last offseason. But that duo never seemed to work out thanks to multiple injuries at the position, with Neal’s season-ending injury being the final blow.

The Steelers signed veteran safety Eric Rowe from his couch to their practice squad mid-season and when he was thrust into action down the stretch run, there was not a noticeable drop-off in play — not exactly a strong sign for the incumbents.

The Steelers hoped to use Kazee as a half-field strong safety, following the NFL-wide trend of more teams playing more Cover 2 and Cover 4 alignments. Neal was expected to play more in the box, especially against run-heavy teams like the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, and help against more physical tight ends like Mark Andrews of the Ravens. All three players could contribute in the team’s three-safety Nickel package, freeing up Fitzpatrick to be more of a rover and playmaker.

For whatever reason, that alignment never worked out, with Kazee struggling as a strong safety, and only finding his game when moved to free safety to cover an injury to Fitzpatrick. Neal dealt with a training camp injury and then finished the season with two passes defended, on interception, and just 33 tackles after he was injured against Green Bay.

Neal is the fifth veteran released by the Steelers since the end of the 2023 season, joining punter Pressley Harvin III, quarterback Mitch Trubisky, tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and center Mason Cole.