The Green Bay Packers re-signed edge rusher Mike Neal in the spring after he was linked to the Arizona Cardinals on the free-agent rumor mill, and Ted Thompson handed him a two-year deal that will pay him $8 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus. At 27, Neal is in the prime of his career, but he has more developmental upside than his age would indicate, because he can play defensive end or outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. He received plenty of interest in the legal tampering period from teams looking for a versatile pass rusher, because Neal is one of the most versatile in the game.
Currently on the active/PUP list to start training camp, Neal is set to be cleared soon. ESPN NFL Nation’s Rob Demovsky reports that Neal, who is suffered from a “core muscle injury”, stated he could be cleared “as soon as Wednesday” and will have the injury examined today. Hopefully Neal’s injury checks out OK today so he can practice tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how he looks out there and where the Packers prefer to play him after adding Julius Peppers. He will see almost all his snaps off the edge, but versatility is definitely the calling card here. The Packers front seven looks promising and dangerous, as it is deep, will have a healthy Clay Matthews, added Peppers, and will get further development from second-year UCLA product Datone Jones.
According to Demovsky, Neal stated he reported to camp at just 263 pounds, so losing the extra bulk will allow him to be even quicker off the edge. He’s someone I want to watch closely in the preseason now that he’s effectively making a full-time transition to OLB, and he had a career-high 49 tackles and five sacks in a mini-breakout, contract year last season. I like him better as a DE than an OLB, but he’s solid either way.