Wake-Up Call: On OLB Free Agent Mike Neal

Mike Neal 1
Mike Neal
is the fourth-best outside linebacker 0n the free agent market, according to Rotoworld. It’s a bit of a feat that he is listed as an outside linebacker at all.

A four-year down lineman at Purdue, the Packers selected Neal with the 56th overall pick in 2010. He weighed a shade over 300 pounds when he entered the league, and was used as a rush defensive tackle in Green Bay. His career got off to a slow start. He appeared in less than half of the Packers’ games over his first three seasons, in part because of injury, in part because of a four-game suspension for violating  the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. (He claims it was for taking Adderrall).

Things turned around for the 26-year old in 2013. Knowing that he had good feet and mobility for a big man, the coaching staff made a pretty bold move and asked him to switch to outside linebacker. The gamble paid off. Neal shed some 15 pounds to make the transition, and went on to supplant Nick Perry as starting left outside linebacker. He played all 16 games this season and finished with 47 tackles, 30 QB pressures (good for second on the team) and five sacks — four of which came over his last seven games.

“His upside is tremendous, especially when you look at how well he played in his last eight or nine games because the game slowed down for him,” said agent Roosevelt Barnes in a conversation with Birds 24/7 Wednesday afternoon.

“Honestly, you think about people making transitions, and to make it in as short a period as I did and to be as successful as I was, if I play another year I wouldn’t expect anything less than to be great,” Neal said via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Neal, who hails from Gary, Indiana, would prefer to stay in the Midwest and continue his career with the Packers, but could draw interest elsewhere. Might the Eagles take a look? He checks some of the boxes. He has pretty good size (6-3, now 275-ish), he’s versatile and he will probably have a “mid-level” price tag. Plus, he’s a young, seemingly-ascending player.

“Mike’s a great athlete,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers told the Sentinel. “And to me, in this day and age with everything being so specialized, this is a really nice thing to do with Mike. He’s more natural at his size right now…and I think we’ve kind of discovered this is a pretty good role for him to be in.”

The list of free-agent outside linebackers won’t blow you away. The top name, Brian Orakpo, has begun contract talks to stay in Washington, and he probably won’t be the only one to re-up with his team before March 11 comes around. The Eagles are in the market for an outsider linebacker or two. A player like Neal could make some sense.

“I would think that they would [have interest],” said Barnes. “Philly would be a good spot for him, but we still have a little while to go before free agency.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Is DeMeco Ryans in line for a pay cut? Sheil and I discuss.

“I know for a fact that I’m [Pro Bowl] caliber. No doubt in my mind.” Mychal Kendricks hoping to take the next step.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Former Eagle Asante Samuel was released by the Falcons Wednesday. From ESPN.

Samuel, who was drafted in New England by new Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, was benched in favor of rookie cornerback Robert Alford. Samuel battled a thigh injury to start the season but simply got beat out in the end.

The 33-year-old Samuel was a fourth-round pick of the Patriots in 2003. He has 51 career interceptions and is the only player in NFL history to register at least one interception return for a touchdown in each of his first six seasons.

Samuel told ESPN.com he would like to play at least “two or three” more seasons.

Rich Hoffman says the Eagles don’t need to be dominant on defense, but they need to be dominant somewhere if they want what Seattle just got.

[T]he lesson from this Super Bowl is pretty consistent with what we have seen in recent years.

That is, in order to win a championship in the NFL, you need to play at an elite level on one side of the ball and a good, resourceful level on the other side of the ball. Both are important: truly elite on either offense or defense, and not significantly deficient on the other side.

Oh – and you have to play well in the big game.

All of which means the Eagles are doing this properly, and don’t need to undergo any kind of wrenching midcourse correction.

COMING UP

We’ll take a look at the Eagles cornerback situation.

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