2023 Offseason Questions: Does Keanu Neal Signing Take Safety Off Draft Board?

The Steelers are now in their offseason after failing to reach the playoffs in 2022, coming up just a game short of sneaking in as the seventh seed. They needed help in week 18 and only got some of it, so instead they sat home and watched the playoffs with the rest of us.

On tap is figuring out how to be on the field in January and February instead of being a spectator. They started out 2-6, digging a hole that proved too deep to dig out of even if they managed to go 7-2 in the second half of the year.

Starting from the end of the regular season and leading all the way up to the beginning of the 2023 season, there are plenty of questions that need answered. Which free agents will be kept? Who might be let go due to their salary? How might they tackle free agency with this new front office? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout this offseason, as we have for many years.

Question: Does the signing of veteran safety Keanu Neal take the position off the Steelers’ draft board?

After allowing five-year starting safety Terrell Edmunds to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles—but not before retaining Damontae Kazee on a two-year, $6 million contract—Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters earlier this week at the annual league meetings that the team would address the safety position at some point, between free agency and the draft.

It was announced by agent David Canter yesterday that his client, veteran safety Keanu Neal, was signing a two-year contract to join the Steelers. So the team has now addressed the position, Neal joining Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kazee, Tre Norwood, and Elijah Riley.

Kazee can be construed as more of a back-end safety while Neal is more of a presence in the box. Between the two of them, they can split up the strong safety role as needed, depending upon the in-game circumstances.

The trio also gives the Steelers their valued third safety to use in dime packages. And Norwood has been used in such contexts before as well. Now that they have at least four safeties that they are relatively comfortable putting out on defense, what does that do to their view of the position in the 2023 NFL Draft?

It’s worth pointing out that all four of the safeties in question are now under contract through the 2024 season, with Kazee and Neal signing two-year contracts, Norwood going into the third year of his rookie deal, and Fitzpatrick, of course, just now moving into his extension money.

Maybe this doesn’t completely take the safety position off the Steelers’ draft board, but how drastically does it decrease the likelihood of them taking one? Might it only be in an extreme context where their top remaining available player by far is a safety? That’s why they drafted Marcus Allen in the fifth round in 2018—and then later moved him to inside linebacker.

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