Darius Leonard

AFC South Notes: Colts, Radunz, Jaguars

Darius Leonard underwent back surgery recently; the rehab effort may prevent the All-Pro Colts linebacker from beginning training camp on time. More clarity emerged on the injury. Leonard played through an ankle problem last season, and ex-Colts punter-turned-radio host Pat McAfee said recently (via Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star) a nerve issue in Leonard’s back caused the ankle trouble. More specifically, Leonard’s ankle injury lingered because of a calf issue Erickson tweets was caused by the back problem. The aforementioned nerve issue prevented Leonard’s calf from full functionality. Leonard still played 91% of Indianapolis’ defensive snaps last season and, boosted by a career-high eight forced fumbles, earned his third first-team All-Pro nod. Despite this complex issue leading to back surgery, the Colts are still expecting Leonard to return near the start of camp, per Erickson.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Previously mentioned as a potential left guard option, Titans 2021 second-round pick Dillon Radunz is now concentrating on the right tackle battle. With Radunz and rookie third-rounder Nicholas Petit-Frere matching up outside, Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com notes former UDFA Aaron Brewer and ex-Seahawks backup Jamarco Jones are vying for the left guard gig (Twitter link). The Titans must replace cap casualty Rodger Saffold and free agency defection David Quessenberry — their latest right tackle stopgap — up front this year. Both 2021 starters are with the Bills now.
  • The groin injury Jaguars backup quarterback C.J. Beathard sustained is not expected to keep him out of training camp, Doug Pederson said. But the Jags received worse injury news on another front. Linebacker Jordan Smith will miss the season with a knee injury. A 2021 fourth-round pick, Smith played in two games last season.
  • Shifting back to the Colts, Morocco Brown‘s promotion will be from college scouting director to chief personnel executive, the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Atkins notes. Brown interviewed for the Steelers’ GM job and the Eagles’ assistant GM job this offseason. This will be his sixth year with the Colts. Matt Terpening will take over as Indy’s college scouting director, with area scout Jamie Moore rising to the assistant college scouting director post Terpening held for the past six years. Terpening has been with the Colts for 22 years.
  • Additionally, the Colts are naming Kasia Omilian as an NFS scout. Omilian, who will be identifying players for future drafts, becomes the first woman to hold a scouting title with the Colts, Mike Chappell of Fox 59 notes. Omilian has been with the team since 2019. Mike Lacy will rise from the NFS scout level to be an area scout for the team.

Colts LB Darius Leonard Had Back Surgery

Darius Leonard recently went under the knife. ESPN’s Mike Wells reports (via Twitter) that the Colts linebacker will have back surgery, but Leonard is expected to be back at some point during training camp. The linebacker himself tweeted that the surgery has already been completed.

“Surgery went well, feeling amazing and ready to get back going!” Leonard tweeted. “If you know me you know I always come back way better than I was! Let’s go man ankle feels amazing and can’t wait to get back moving!”

As Leonard noted, he’s been struggling with an ankle injury throughout the spring that has prevented him from participating in Indy’s offseason workouts. This was the same ankle that Leonard got operated on last offseason, a surgery that forced him to miss time during training camp and ultimately hampered him for much of the 2021 campaign. Fortunately, the team doesn’t believe Leonard will need to undergo a second operation on the troublesome ankle.

However, the linebacker has also been dealing with a back ailment since his season came to an end, and he ultimately decided to get an operation. Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star writes that the surgery will force Leonard to miss “at least part” of training camp, but the veteran’s absence isn’t expected to extend into the regular season.

While Leonard dealt with injuries throughout last year, he still proved why he’s one of the best linebackers in the NFL, finishing with 122 tackles, four interceptions, and a league-leading eight forced fumbles. The performance earned him a first-team All-Pro nod, the third first-team honor of his career. The 26-year-old inked a whopping five-year, $99.25MM extension (including $52.5MM guaranteed) with the Colts last offseason.

Latest On Darius Leonard

The biggest news of the offseason for the Colts is the the arrival of Matt Ryan at quarterback, but another crucial storyline relates to the health of All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard. As detailed by Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star, his injured ankle is “still giving him trouble”. 

As a result of that news, Erickson adds, Leonard is being held off the field during OTAs, just as he was last week. The team is being cautious at this point in the offseason, partially due to the voluntary nature of the present workouts and practices, but also to see if they can avoid a second consecutive surgery being necessary.

That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment when Leonard himself stated last month that the ankle was in an improved condition relative to one year ago. “It feels a whole lot better than what it did, coming from the end of the season” he said. “I feel better coming into this season than I did last year, I can say that.”

While Erickson adds that neither the 26-year-old nor the team believe another procedure is necessary, both sides have acknowledged that the ankle still hasn’t healed in full yet. “We’re just taking it day by day, trying to see what, exactly, we’re dealing with, how we can get it to respond and make some progress” head coach Frank Reich said.

Leonard played through the injury all of last season, maintaining the level of production expected of him, given his pedigree and lucrative contract. He totalled 122 tackles, four interceptions and a league-leading eight forced fumbles, earning him First-Team All-Pro honors for the third time in four years. Barring significant improvement in the coming weeks on the injury front, however, it appears the status of his ankle will linger over the rest of the offseason, and potentially into the fall.

AFC Rumors: Jaguars, Williams, Van Roten, Leonard, Browns, Griffin III

After the Jaguars fired former head coach Urban Meyer, it became public that Jacksonville had no intentions of paying Meyer the remaining money on his contract, as he was being fired for cause. There was speculation at the time that the parties may follow existing precedents and negotiate a settlement in order to avoid a legal situation.

According to Jarrett Bell of USA Today, an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation informed the columnist that, to date, the two sides have been unable to strike a settlement agreement.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC, starting with a rumor out of South Beach:

  • The Dolphins should have plenty of options for their offensive line configuration, but it most likely hinges on what they do with interior offensive lineman Connor Williams. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Miami isn’t quite sure what to do with Williams, working him at center and left guard over the past three weeks. The good news, is that it gives them plenty of options. With Terron Armstead solidified at left tackle and Robert Hunt solidly at right guard, Williams could fit at either position. If you put Williams at left guard, the team would likely have Michael Deiter start at center and leave Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson to compete for the starting right tackle job. If you start Williams at center, Eichenberg can slide in to the left guard job and Jackson can man the right tackle position.
  • The Jets recently released guard Greg Van Roten. According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, head coach Robert Saleh claimed that they released Van Roten because they believe he has the potential to start for other teams in the league. His release is meant to allow him to find those teams that would provide him a starting opportunity. Saleh was quoted saying they’d “love to have him back,” if he fails to find such opportunities.
  • Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had ankle surgery in June last year before the season. The surgery helped him to get healthy for the season, where he played every game but one and was named a first-team All-Pro for the third time in his career. While the ankle is still ailing him, Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star reported that Leonard says the ankle is better now than it was at this point last year. This is an encouraging sign for Leonard and a scary message for the other teams in the AFC South. Leonard has been named to an All-Pro team every year of his career while being nagged by his ankle ailment. A healthy Leonard is a dangerous weapon for opposing teams to have to game-plan against.
  • With the return of free agent wide receiver Jarvis Landry seeming less and less likely, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com believes the Browns will be able to push a bit harder now for free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to return. Cabot points out that drafting UAB pass rusher Alex Wright makes the need to sign Clowney a little less urgent, but also mentions that fellow pass rusher Myles Garrett wants Clowney back, which could help his case. Cabot claims that, if the two parties can’t agree to a new deal, Cleveland will consider former Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes instead.
  • We’ve all seen Rich Eisen of NFL Network run the 40-yard dash for charity. Well, this year, former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, currently an analyst for ESPN, participated and reportedly was clocked at 4.48 seconds. Mike Florio of NBC Sports reports that on Eisen’s show, Griffin made the claim that some teams took notice of his impressive run and reached out to him. This doesn’t necessarily mean that any teams have offered to bring him back to the NFL, but Griffin has publicly stated his desire to return to football in the past, even claiming that his contract with ESPN would allow him to sign with an NFL team if the opportunity presents itself. Griffin last spent time in the league as Lamar Jackson‘s back up on the Ravens. He filled in multiple times leading many to wonder if he still had the ability to lead an NFL offense based on his brief appearances.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 12/30/21

Here are Thursday’s reserve/COVID-19 list updates:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

  • Activated from virus list: OL Cody Ford, CB Cam Lewis
  • Activated from practice squad virus list: TE Quintin Morris

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

  • Placed on practice squad virus list: LB Omari Cobb

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

NFL COVID List Updates: 12/25-12/26/21

We’ve compiled a list of players who were placed on or activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Christmas and today. In some instances, players activated from the list remain on IR:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Placed on practice squad/COVID-19 list: WR Steven Sims

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Colts Place Darius Leonard On IR

The Colts have placed linebacker Darius Leonard, wide receiver Zach Pascal, and safety Khari Willis on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. As a result, all three players will be held out of tonight’s game against the Cardinals. 

[RELATED: Colts Place Nelson On Reserve/COVID-19 List]

The Colts will also be playing without all three of their starting interior linemen, leaving them at half-strength for Week 16. On top of that, they’ll be without Leonard through at least Week 17. As noted by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter link), Leonard is unvaccinated, which means that he’ll have to remain on the list for a minimum of ten days.

The Colts also have right guard Mark Glowinski, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and defensive end Kemoko Turay on the COVID-19 list. Between Leonard, Nelson, and center Ryan Kelly (out due to a personal matter), that leaves the Colts without three newly-named Pro Bowlers.

The Colts have won five of their last six, putting them in position to take one of the AFC’s Wild Card spots. But, at 8-6, they’ve yet to clinch. The Cardinals, meanwhile, can inch closer to the NFC West crown with a win tonight.

Colts, Darius Leonard Agree To Extension

7:31pm: Guarantee-wise, it does not look like Leonard’s deal will be quite as lucrative as Mosley’s. The Colts linebacker will see $33MM fully guaranteed, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. That comes in $10MM below Mosley’s figure, which could be expected given that the Jets linebacker was a free agent when he inked that deal in 2019.

Factoring in the injury guarantees, Leonard’s extension does lead all off-ball linebackers; the Colts included $53MM guaranteed overall. Leonard’s full $20MM signing bonus will be paid by March 2022, JLC adds. Overall, Leonard’s extension checks in at $98.5MM base valeu, per OverTheCap, but it can max out at $99.3MM through weekly bonuses and Pro Bowl incentives.

8:07am: The Colts and star linebacker Darius Leonard have agreed to a five-year, $99.25MM extension, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Leonard is now the highest-paid off-ball LB in the league.

Leonard and 49ers ‘backer Fred Warner, both selected in the 2018 draft, became extension-eligible at the end of the 2020 campaign, and because they were not first-round choices, they were slated for free agency next spring. So it was imperative for their respective clubs to extend their defensive cornerstones sooner rather than later, and after Warner signed a five-year, $95MM pact last month, it felt like only a matter of time before the Colts and Leonard came together on a slightly more lucrative accord.

Indeed, we heard on July 21 that the two sides were close to a new deal, but as Rapoport adds in a separate tweet, negotiations came to a standstill over the past several weeks. It’s unclear exactly what the holdup was, but perhaps it had to do with guarantees and cash flow.

As Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com reports, Leonard did not just set the off-ball LB market in terms of average annual value ($19.85MM). His $52.5MM in guaranteed money edges out the $51MM that C.J. Mosley pulled down from the Jets several years ago, and the $60MM that he will receive over the first three years of the deal tops Warner’s $58.7MM (Twitter link).

Leonard, 26, is certainly worthy of that type of commitment. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, and in his first three years as a pro, he has made three Pro Bowls and earned two First Team All-Pro nods. Although Pro Football Focus did not think as highly of his run defense or pass coverage in 2020 as it did in the prior two years, he consistently ranks among the best LBs in football in terms of both advanced metrics and raw stats. Since entering the league, Leonard leads all inside linebackers in tackles per game (9.9), TFL per game (one), sacks (15), forced fumbles (nine), and he is second in interceptions (seven) (h/t Field Yates of ESPN.com on Twitter).

In short, he is an elite defender and an indispensable piece of Indy’s front seven. He is now being paid like it.

Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio first reported that a deal was either done or close to being done (Twitter link).

Colts, Darius Leonard Nearing Deal

Darius Leonard and the Colts are on the verge of a new deal (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Once completed, it’s expected to be a four-year extension worth upwards of $19MM per year.

You know what you’ve done, and you know what you deserve,” Leonard said earlier this year, an indication that he wouldn’t be giving Indy much of a hometown discount. “Hopefully, they see as much value as I see.

On Wednesday, the 49ers locked up All-Pro Fred Warner with a five-year, $95MM extension. That deal made him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll hold that mantle for long. Even though Leonard’s deal will be slightly shorter, his AAV is expected to trump Warner’s $19MM/year. Meanwhile, Seahawks star Bobby Wagner — making $18MM annually — will drop to No. 3 on the ILB earnings list.

Taken with the No. 36 overall pick in 2018, Leonard was an instant difference maker for the Colts. He’s proven to be a great second-round value, though his slot did not provide Indy with a fifth-year option. As a result, he’s currently on course for free agency in the spring of 2022.

Leonard, 26 in July, made an All-Pro team in each of his first three seasons. That includes his first year when he also captured the Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy.

Colts’ Darius Leonard: “You Know What You Deserve”

The Colts expect to hammer out an extension with Darius Leonard sometime soon. There’s mutual interest between the team and Leonard, but the linebacker isn’t looking to give a deep hometown discount. 

You know what you’ve done, and you know what you deserve,” Leonard said (Twitter link via Zak Keefer of The Athletic). “Hopefully, they see as much value as I see.”

Taken with the No. 36 overall pick in 2018, Leonard was an instant difference maker for the Colts. He’s proven to be a great second-round value, though his slot did not provide Indy with a fifth-year option. As a result, he’s currently on course for free agency in the spring of 2022.

Leonard made an All-Pro team in each of his first three seasons, including his first year when he also captured the Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy. He’s now aiming for top-of-the-market inside linebacker money and it’s a safe bet that he’ll get it. You could say that Leonard has been very solid but shy of spectacular, but he’s still young — he won’t turn 26 until July.

For the Colts, that could mean a deal worth about $20MM per year. Meanwhile, they’ll also work to lock up the No. 37 pick in the ’18 class, starting right tackle Braden Smith.