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Free-agent countdown: No. 6 Mike Neal

Feb. 25, 2014
 
Green Bay Packers linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal. File/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal. File/Press-Gazette Media

2014 free-agent countdown

20. Chris Banjo, safety
19. Seneca Wallace, quarterback
18. Kahlil Bell, running back
17. Robert Francois, inside linebacker
16. Marshall Newhouse, offensive lineman
15. C.J. Wilson, defensive lineman
14. M.D. Jennings, safety
13. Jamari Lattimore, inside linebacker
12. Johnny Jolly, defensive line
11. Matt Flynn, quarterback
10. Andrew Quarless, tight end
9. James Starks, running back
8. Ryan Pickett, defensive line
7. Jermichael Finley, tight end
6. Mike Neal, outside linebacker/defensive line

More

The Green Bay Packers never planned on Mike Neal playing more snaps at outside linebacker than any other player on the roster last season.

But then Clay Matthews broke his thumb. And Nick Perry broke his foot. And Matthews broke his thumb again.

So the slimmed-down 280-pound Neal began playing more linebacker than defensive line. He had 47 tackles with five sacks while playing in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career.

Neal quelled some of the questions surrounding his durability in seeing a career-high 730 defensive snaps in a contract year. This offseason, the 26-year-old could cash in the same way Erik Walden did in relief of an injured Perry in 2012. Walden got a four-year, $16 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Neal’s production was better, too. Walden was older (28) and finished with fewer sacks (three) in 15 games (nine starts) compared to Neal’s 16 and 10. Neal played in only nine games during his first two professional seasons, though.

“Mike Neal, his transition from a one- and three-technique interior defensive tackle to a stand-up, two-point stance outside backer,” former Packers linebackers coach Kevin Greene said last month. “And then having to see the entire field and having coverage and knowing exactly where you need to fit in the grand scheme of things in your coverage, all the checks and adjustments, he really has had a remarkable transition.”

Neal reportedly is receiving some interest on the market, which could price him out of a return to Green Bay. As dependable as he was at a position ravaged by injury, the Packers might not want to invest heavily with Matthews and Perry in the fold.

Coach Mike McCarthy evidently wants to build onto the elephant position – a seven-technique rusher who lines up on the outside shoulder of the tight end – so Neal could make them consider it. If not, Perry and 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones could be options.

If nothing else, Neal’s season proved he could be versatile and not limited to one particular spot in a 3-4 defense like Dom Capers’ scheme, which requires variation.

Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top 20 unrestricted, restricted and exclusive right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.

No. 6 Mike Neal, fourth-year outside linebacker/defensive lineman

The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.

The snaps: 813 total (730 defense, 83 special teams).

The stats: 47 tackles, five sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.

The 2013 salary: $635,250.

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