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90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: CB Siran Neal

The special teams stalwart has some extra competition for his roster spot this year

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have plenty of depth in the defensive secondary. Last year, the team suffered more injuries than could possibly have been expected, losing its top three safeties at various times throughout the year while also dealing with injury issues among their top four corners.

In short, last year’s injury luck was almost impossibly bad, but there is a silver lining. Thanks to those injury issues, some of Buffalo’s formerly untested depth players have some experience under their belt. Also worth noting is that the team’s decision makers have a better idea of what some of those players can and can’t do.

In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one of Buffalo’s more tenured members in the secondary — a special teams stalwart whose roster spot could be more tenuous than usual this summer.

Name: Siran Neal

Number: 33

Position: CB

Height/Weight: 6’, 206 pounds

Age: 28 (29 on 8/4/2023)

Experience/Draft: 6; selected by Buffalo in the fifth round (No. 154 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft

College: Jacksonville State (AL)

Acquired: Fifth-round draft choice

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Neal enters the second year of a three-year contract extension, a pact worth $9 million that he signed ahead of last season. Neal’s 2023 cap hit is $3,313,333 if he makes the roster, and Buffalo will carry a dead-cap charge of $1,066,067 if he’s released prior to the start of the year. As a vested veteran, the entirety of his base salary ($1.94 million) becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Week 1 roster.

2022 Recap: Neal once again played as one of Buffalo’s top special teams contributors, appearing on more snaps in that phase of the game (316) than anyone other than Tyler Matakevich. Neal did play 63 defensive snaps, with most of them coming during the Bills’ 38-3 blowout victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, he totaled two tackles, one quarterback hit, and four pass breakups. He played 12 defensive snaps the following week against the Kansas City Chiefs, mostly as the designated mugger/press defender for tight end Travis Kelce. He had two tackles in that contest. In that two-week stretch, quarterbacks were just 2-of-9 for 13 yards passing when Neal was the closest person in coverage, according to Pro Football Reference’s advanced stats. Neal finished the season with 19 total tackles, 11 of which came on special teams.

Positional outlook: Neal is one of a multitude of corners trying to find space on the roster. Tre’Davious White, Dane Jackson, Kaiir Elam, Taron Johnson, Christian Benford, Cam Lewis, Cameron Dantzler, Alex Austin, and Ja’Marcus Ingram are the others.

2023 Offseason: Neal is healthy and he has participated in offseason work to date.

2023 Season outlook: Neal is one of those guys who feels like he’s close to a roster lock, but then I look at the talent and depth the team has at the position and I wonder if they’ll go in a different direction. They certainly love Neal’s ability as a gunner on special teams, and his ability to play in the slot, as an outside corner, and at safety is helpful in a pinch. However, he’s not particularly good on a consistent basis in the context of the actual defense, which does limit his usage.

Granted, the team is introducing a new-ish scheme this year, so there may be more opportunities for him to contribute if head coach Sean McDermott is more aggressive than former assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as a play caller.

White, Elam, Benford, and Johnson are certainties on the roster, which leaves the Bills with two spots on the final roster if they do what they’ve done in the past. The most intriguing challengers, at least in my eyes, are Austin and Dantzler, since they weren’t on the roster last year and I want to see what they can do. Lewis, for as much as I’ve dogged him, was outstanding on special teams, as well, and he also offers similar versatility to Neal at a fraction of the price. Jackson might not be someone we want as a primary starter, but the Bills could do much worse than a guy like him as their last corner in a pinch.

I think that Neal will be with the team come September, but unlike at points in years past, I wouldn’t be shocked if Buffalo goes in a different direction this year.