It’s now getting into late May and Mike Neal is still looking to see who his employer will be for the 2016 season in the NFL. Neal is an unrestricted free agent who has put together a pretty solid resume the past three years as a player with the Green Bay Packers.
In those three years, Neal has played in every game in each of those seasons and has averaged 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks per season as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defensive scheme the Packers utilize.
Neal started out his career in Green Bay in 2010 as a defensive end, as he was 6’3″, 294-pounds coming out of Purdue, when the Packers drafted him in the second round that year.
The former Boilermaker showed flashes of being pretty solid on the defensive line for the Packers, but due to injuries to his shoulder and his knee, only played in nine games in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Neal was able to play in 11 games in 2012 as a defensive end and had 4.5 sacks that season. However, Neal missed the first four games of that season due to violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
But from 2013 through the 2015 seasons, Neal dropped some weight (down to 262 pounds) and moved out to outside linebacker. No. 96 has always been solid versus the run and occasionally puts pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Plus, he left behind the injury-plagued start of his career and became a player who would consistently be there for the team each and every game.
Still, the Packers looked at other options during free agency and the draft. First the team re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry to a one-year deal and then also drafted outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell of Utah State in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft.
Adding to that, on the weekend of the draft, director of player personnel Eliot Wolf said this about Neal’s situation:
“I think it’s a priority,” Wolf said talking about adding to the defense. “Obviously with B.J. (Raji) retiring, we lost some guys up front, and Mike Neal’s moved on so it just looks like something that we addressed as need, and we’ve been able to fill it so far. Couple more picks to go.”
Later on, general manager Ted Thompson backtracked a bit talking about what Wolf had said about Neal.
“I wouldn’t characterize it like that,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of different things that can happen during the course of an off-season that would change things. So I wouldn’t be strong enough to say that.”
If the Packers have indeed moved on without Neal at outside linebacker, Green Bay still has solid depth at the position. This includes Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Perry, Jayrone Elliott, Lerentee McCray and Fackrell.
Neal recently spoke with Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding his uncertain future in a recent story.
Neal will not hold any grudges against the Packers if they do not bring him back.
“I’m not here to throw anyone under the bus,” Neal said. “I love Green Bay. They’ve started my life off great, so how can you ever be mad at that? You know what I’m saying? You can never be mad at that. That’s just a business, that’s what they choose to do. I’m in a good place. I couldn’t be in a better place.”
Neal has visited the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, but left both places without a contract. One reason perhaps was because Neal was named in an Al Jazeera report which accused a number of players of PED use.
Neal was asked if that situation has affected his free agency status.
“I think it influenced it heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily,” Neal said. “And that’s just from meeting with other teams and hearing what other teams have to say. You have to take everything into account. If you don’t, then you’re kind of cheating yourself out of the whole ordeal.
“I think that when you look at it, out of all the people that they had reported that are playing in the NFL, who was the only one that was a free agent? It was me. You know what I’m saying? You don’t see guys getting cut or anything like that because they’ve already signed a contract.
“I was the only one hitting the free-agent market out of that group of guys. I think that that affected it because most teams wonder what is the league’s position on everything. To be quite honest with you, I would never even know. Never once have I been contacted by the NFL about anything, about what’s going on. Not once.”
Knowing that Neal lives in the Tampa area in the offseason and also that the Tampa Bay Bucs are looking to add some depth along the defensive Front 7, I wanted to talk to NFL scout Chris Landry about the current situation with Neal.
I was able to talk with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig show on Wednesday. As I asked Landry about Neal, I mentioned that he was solid versus the run and that to me, Neal was more a 4-3 defensive lineman, as opposed to a 3-4 outside linebacker. I also mentioned that the Bucs have a need for some quality depth on their defensive front.
“I think he’s a really good run-defender,” Landry said. “High motor. I think he’s a good player. I agree with you. I think he’s a good rotational guy. He doesn’t give you a lot in the pass rush, which hurts him.
“But I definitely think he’s got a place in the league. If the Bucs aren’t interested, he’ll find a home. They have certainly done some things to improve their defensive front in Green Bay, so he may get caught out in the wash.”