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Newly signed Buccaneers safety Ryan Neal ready to prove he's 'a legit starter' 

Ryan Neal made his NFL career the hard way, going undrafted out of Southern Illinois in 2018.

The 27-year-old played in just one game in his first season in Atlanta. Moving to Seattle in 2019, he saw action just three times. Year 3, he became a special teams player, rotational safety and spot starter (four games). 2021 brought a similar story.

Last season, though, Jamal Adams' injury opened the door for a starting gig in Seattle. Neal walked through it.

The safety played in 14 games, starting 10, generating one interception, eight passes defended and 66 tackles. He ranked as PFF's No. 4 overall safety, among players with at least 250 snaps, and third in coverage.

A restricted free agent, the Seahawks gave Neal a $2.63 million tender, and it appeared he'd continue his upward trend in Seattle. But after the Seahawks signed Julian Love, the club rescinded the tender, making him a free agent.

He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday, where he'll have a clear shot at earning a starting role alongside Antoine Winfield Jr.

"It was definitely appealing," Neal said Thursday, via Pewter Report. "My goal is to show the league that I'm a legit starter. I've been to Seattle the last couple of years, had my chance to flash and show. Last year was really big and this year I just want to make that set in stone.

"Set the statement (that) I'll start at safety. I want to come here and add value to the defense, you never want to take away from a room, you always want to add to it. Can't wait to meet my teammates, the rest of my coaches, any way I can add value. That's my whole goal this year.

Neal got the chance last year to be a full-time starter thanks to injury. With Adams returning, he could have been squeezed back into a rotational role. Now in Tampa, he's prepared to show last season wasn't a blip.

Despite how things went down in Seattle, with the Seahawks brass essentially choosing Love over him, Neal said he has no hard feelings.

"I've got nothing but love for [the Seahawks] over there," he said via the Bucs official team website. "Sometimes you just may not be part of the future plans and that's just the way the business goes. Like I said, I'm glad to be here -- the opportunity to come here, you couldn't say no to it. It's a blessing to be here and all I plan on doing is bringing my piece to the table and trying to find a way to enhance this team, this defense -- whatever I'm asked to do, just find a way to make it better. I'm excited to be here and glad to do that."

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