LB Shaquille Leonard Hoping To Continue Playing Career

Things change quickly in the NFL. At the end of the 2021 season, linebacker Shaquille Leonard was at the peak of his game, having earned Pro Bowl and/or First-Team All-Pro acclaim in each of his first four seasons in the league. Several years later, it sounds like a real possibility that the decorated defender will not play another snap.

Last night, Leonard attended a fundraiser in Carmel, Indiana for his Maniac Foundation. The event was sponsored by the Colts, for whom Leonard starred for four years before back issues upended his career. Indianapolis, which had signed Leonard to a five-year, $99.25MM extension in August 2021, waived him in November 2023, and he finished out last season with the Eagles after he cleared waivers.

Speaking at his foundation’s event, Leonard said he wants to continue his playing career and is working to make that a reality, but he is also content if that does not happen.

“I’m moreso just sitting back, getting the body healthy, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, we’ll give it a try,” he said (via Kyle Smedley of the Indianapolis Star). “I just continue to be me by working hard. If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t. I think throughout my career I’ve had a great career, even if I do step away from it. … I’m enjoying life and just waiting on that opportunity.”

Although he ultimately played in 14 games (12 starts) in 2023 after seeing action in just three contests the year before, he was clearly not the same player that landed the record-setting extension. Before the Colts cut him, he had logged a 70% snap share, which was by far his lowest mark for a full campaign. He then appeared in just 47% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps over the club’s final five games of the season, which led to questions about his ability to regain his prior form.

In addition, Pro Football Focus assigned him a middling overall grade of 62.8 for his 2023 performance, which positioned him as the 53rd-best ‘backer out of 82 qualifiers. That was a far cry from his halcyon days of 2018-21, when he consistently graded out as a top-10 LB in the eyes of PFF’s metrics. He recorded 88 total tackles without a forced fumble or pass defensed, and he yielded a career-worst 123.8 quarterback rating in coverage.

Given his pedigree and age — he will turn 29 in July — it would not be surprising to see a team take a flier on him as the summer progresses (though there has been no reported interest in his services this offseason). A longtime friend said Leonard told him that he currently feels as healthy as he did in his rookie season, and according to the same friend, the father of one-month-old Darius Shaquille Leonard, Jr. would like to see the word “Senior” on the back of his NFL jersey. It remains to be seen if he will get that chance.

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