NOVEMBER 26: The forward momentum of Leonard to Dallas continues this weekend. According to Calvin Watkins of Dallas Morning News, a source close to the situation has claimed that the veteran free agent linebacker is set to visit Dallas sometime this week. Tuesday has been confirmed as the date for the former All-Pro’s visit, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, as this is the latest in a heap of information that seems to point towards an eventual deal between the two parties.
Leonard would join Rashaan Evans as a veteran linebacker addition to the Cowboys’ defense. Injuries to Leighton Vander Esch and rookie third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown have really thinned out the team’s linebacking corps, and Leonard, even in a limited capacity, would provide some important depth and experience on the defensive side of the ball.
NOVEMBER 23, 3:55pm: ESPN’s Ed Werder reports members of the Cowboys’ defensive coaching staff have encouraged the front office to add Leonard, though the team would consider him a role player rather than a bonafide starter. In a similar vein, Werder adds another interested team is concerned over Leonard’s mobility issues brought on by his back surgeries, a factor which will no doubt hurt his market.
As the list of teams to watch continues to grow, Werder names the Broncos as one which has “shown interest” in a potential deal. That adds Denver to the previous collection of squads (Dallas, Philadelphia and Minnesota) reported to have at least inquired about Leonard, whose choice of team for the remainder of 2023 could provide a major boost to a playoff-bound club in particular.
NOVEMBER 23, 11:13am: While the NFL prepares for its latest round of Thanksgiving contests, one of the top storylines around the league is centered on the future of Shaquille Leonard. The former All-Pro linebacker is available to sign with any team after his time with the Colts came to a sudden end.
To no surprise, interest has emerged in the 28-year-old, especially since no team put in a claim for him (something which would have required taking on the remainder of his lucrative contract). Leonard is now a free agent as a result, setting up a high-profile midseason market. He is in no hurry to choose his destination for the rest of the 2023 season, though an agreement with a contender should be expected, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network notes (video link).
The Cowboys and Eagles have emerged as interested parties, but it remains to be seen how much of a push they will make to add Leonard. Indeed, Dallas is simply “kicking the tires” on the three-time Pro Bowler at this point, David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reports. The pace of inquiries could slow down Leonard’s decision-making process, but he is not in a hurry to find a new team, The Athletic’s Dianna Russni adds (subscription required).
Injuries have threatened to derail the former second-rounder’s career, which saw him log 1,001 snaps in 2021, his last fully healthy campaign. Back issues limited him to just three contests the following year, and the Colts employed a slow ramp-up period with his playing time in 2023. Leonard took issue with that approach, and his snap share for this season checked in at 70% prior to being let go. While injury concerns will hurt his value on a new deal, Leonard will still be compensated regardless of how his free agent period plays out since there is offset language in his now-terminated five-year, $98.5MM deal (h/t Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated).
Interestingly, Russini names the Vikings as another potential suitor for Leonard. While the Eagles and Cowboys each appear poised to make a postseason run, Minnesota cannot be considered an NFC playoff lock despite their winning streak which ended in Week 11. With quarterback Kirk Cousins out for the year and wideout Justin Jefferson still yet to return to action, the team’s offense faces major questions down the stretch. Defensively, though, Leonard would give a boost in the second level to a unit led by veteran Jordan Hicks. The latter, mentioned in trade talk in advance of the deadline, is a pending free agent.
While nothing appears to be imminent with respect to Leonard reaching agreement on a new deal, he will clearly have a list of choices on a short-term contract in particular. The Vikings outpace both the Cowboys and Eagles in terms of remaining 2023 cap space, but it will be interesting to see how many other teams emerge as contenders to land him for a playoff push.