Shaquille Leonard

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.

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Leonard, Cowboys, Giants, Commanders, Del Rio

Shaquille Leonard‘s free agency decision brought additional intrigue due to its NFC East-only nature, and Jerry Jones said during an interview with 105.3 The Fan (h/t The Athletic’s Jon Machota) the chase did not come down to money. The Colts still owe Leonard $6.1MM guaranteed for the rest of this year. The sixth-year linebacker will collect $416K in prorated base salary from the Eagles, Field Yates of tweets. That checks in above the veteran minimum, and Yates adds the Eagles included a $100K incentive and $17K per game in roster bonuses.

Leonard played 2 1/2 seasons on a five-year, $98.5MM accord — one that topped the ILB market until the Ravens’ Roquan Smith deal earlier this year — but saw two 2022 back surgeries impact his career. Visiting both the Cowboys and Eagles (ahead of the NFC East powers’ rematch Sunday), Leonard said (via’s Zach Berman) his bond with Nick Sirianni played a key role in the Eagles choice. Sirianni was the Colts’ OC from 2018-20, Leonard’s first three NFL seasons (all of which resulted in All-Pro honors). He will attempt to recapture that form ahead of another free agency run in 2024.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

Eagles, Shaquille Leonard Agree To Deal

The Shaquille Leonard sweepstakes have come to an end. The All-Pro free agent has come to terms on a one-year deal with the Eagles, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets. The team has since announced the agreement.

Leonard’s choice was widely understood to be down to the Eagles or the divisional-rival Cowboys. Both teams hosted the veteran linebacker on a visit last week, expressing an interest in a deal provided the terms were reasonable. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed a wait-and-see attitude earlier today while awaiting Leonard’s decision, but as Rapoport notes, Philadelphia was always his “preferred destination.”

After both Dallas and Philadelphia hosted Leonard, it became clear he would wait until after the Week 13 slate of Sunday games to decide on his next home. Today’s news means he will join a team other than the Colts for the first time in his career, but his addition could prove to be crucial in the race for the NFC East crown. The Cowboys and Eagles play each other in Week 14, which could very well mark Leonard’s debut for his new employer.

Issues related to playing time led the Colts to move on from the 28-year-old last month. All teams were eligible to add him via waivers, but putting in a claim would have tied them to the remainder of his contract. To no surprise, he cleared and became a free agent. A short list of teams emerged, with the Eagles and Cowboys immediately at the forefront. The Broncos and Vikings were briefly mentioned as potential suitors, but neither squad hosted him on a free agent visit. Now, attention will turn to the Eagles’ general linebacker situation and where Leonard will fit into it.

Zach Cunningham has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and his absence was a major factor in Philadelphia’s pursuit of Leonard. The former was missed during the Eagles’ blowout loss to the 49ers yesterday, a game in which the team’s defense endured a sustained inability to slow down San Francisco’s offense. Leonard could play a part in helping a unit which ranks 23rd and 24th in total and scoring defense, respectively. Especially after Cunningham returns, though, a rotational role will likely await the three-time Pro Bowler.

Leonard has been limited to 12 games across the past two seasons as back issues have led to surgery and signficant missed time. Questions abound regarding his ability to regain his previous form after he logged a snap share of 70% in Indianapolis this season, by far his lowest in a full campaign. The Colts have moved on with younger, less expensive options at the second level, but the Eagles will take a flier on Leonard still being able to make an impact. Philadelphia entered the day with $3.39MM in cap space, meaning today’s deal will not be a lucrative one.

Still atop the division despite yesterday’s loss, the Eagles remain in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s top seed. Leonard will look to give their postseason push a boost and in doing so help his free agent prospects. How he fits into Philadelphia’s defense and the impact he can make will be a key storyline to follow down the stretch.

Eagles Meet With Shaquille Leonard; Cowboys Remain In Mix

DECEMBER 3: According to Russini, Leonard passed his physicals with the Eagles and Cowboys and will let the clubs know of his decision after Philadelphia finishes its game against the 49ers today (subscription required). ESPN’s Adam Schefter, meanwhile, reports that Leonard will sign “within the next 48 hours or so.”

Regardless, Leonard will have a new home soon, and given the timelines provided by Russini and Schefter, it is clear that Philadelphia and Dallas are the only contenders for the LB’s services. The two division rivals play each other next week.

NOVEMBER 29: Leonard’s Eagles visit has wrapped, McLane tweets. The free agent linebacker took a physical during the visit, and’s Ian Rapoport notes the wait is on. Leonard will take the next few days to weigh his options. No other meetings are scheduled.

NOVEMBER 28: Shaquille Leonard‘s rumored Eagles meeting will end up coming to fruition. The decorated linebacker has completed his Cowboys visit, according to Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz, who reports the Eagles meeting should precede a decision from the standout defender.

Classifying the Cowboys visit as “successful,” Schultz and The Athletic’s Dianna Russini add Leonard is expected to make a decision by the weekend. Even after not reaching an agreement with Leonard, the Cowboys remain in the mix,’s Jeremy Fowler tweets. Other visits are possible as well, per Fowler, but as of now, a Cowboys-Eagles matchup is transpiring. Each having pursued LB help before the trade deadline, both Super Bowl contenders have been linked to Leonard since his Colts release.

The Leonard-Eagles summit is expected to occur Wednesday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane, who adds the team will likely put the free agent linebacker through a workout and a physical. Leonard has dealt with injury trouble over the past three seasons, with the health issues moving him off the top tier among off-ball ‘backers. Leonard would have a clear Eagles connection; Nick Sirianni was in Indianapolis as OC from 2018-20.

Leonard, 28, visiting other teams would delay his timetable, but’s Jane Slater adds he is anticipating visits to “a couple” more teams after leaving Dallas. A decision coming this weekend, however, would potentially have the sixth-year veteran on track to debut for his new team by Week 14. Though, it would also be understandable if the Cowboys or Eagles — or a surprise finalist — would want to extend a ramp-up period a bit longer due to the late arrival.

The Vikings and Broncos have been mentioned as other suitors here, though with neither having secured a meeting, it may be an all-NFC East race for the four-time All-Pro. Minnesota recently reunited with Anthony Barr, who has been a gameday elevation in each of the past two weeks. The Broncos re-signed Alex Singleton this offseason, continuing a two-year ILB partnership with Josey Jewell.

The Eagles hold the NFL’s best record, and with the Lions losing on Thanksgiving, Philadelphia is the league’s only one- or two-loss team. The defending NFC champions’ conference cushion notwithstanding, they have been dealing with linebacker issues for much of the season. Nakobe Dean has suffered two foot injuries, each sending him to IR. The Eagles can activate the second-year ‘backer from IR for a second time, but Dean remains off the 53-man roster entering a crucial 49ers matchup. Zach Cunningham has also run into an injury issue, going down with a hamstring malady during Philly’s overtime win over Buffalo.

This leaves Nicholas Morrow as the Eagles’ top healthy linebacker. Letting T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White walk in free agency, the Eagles aimed to make Dean the centerpiece of a low-cost linebacking corps. The foot injuries have scuttled that plan. The team brought in Cunningham and Myles Jack during training camp, but the latter retired after several days of practice. Cunningham, whom the Titans released in February, has been a regular starter this season. But he also landed on IR twice during his second and final Tennessee campaign.

Leonard will not fetch anything close to the five-year, $98.5MM extension he signed with the Colts before the 2021 season. Two back surgeries in 2022 changed his Colts trajectory, as did Gus Bradley‘s arrival as DC. With a few teams interested, Leonard still figures to come away with a deal north of the prorated veteran minimum. It is unclear if the Division I-FCS success story is eyeing a multiyear pact — as Odell Beckham Jr. was rumored to be seeking at this point last year, when the Cowboys heavily pursued him — or if he wants a temporary gig to better position him for a free agency bid in 2024. Whichever team signs Leonard now would have exclusive negotiating rights with him until the March legal tampering period.

Eagles’ Interest In Shaquille Leonard Picking Up

NOVEMBER 28: If Leonard’s Cowboys summit does not produce a deal, he “should be visiting” with the Eagles in the next few days, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. While nothing is firmly on the books yet for Philadelphia, as Dianna Russini of The Athletic adds, it would come as no surprise if the Eagles moved quickly to try and land Leonard. Russini adds that other teams remain in contact with his camp, meaning the two NFC East rivals could still have outside competition to finalize an agreement.

NOVEMBER 27: The Cowboys are the team which has been most closely linked to linebacker Shaquille Leonard. The high-profile free agent has other suitors, though, including another NFC East power.

The Eagles were initially named as a team to watch for Leonard, along with the Cowboys. Dallas has since lined up a visit with the former All-Pro, meaning a decision on his future could be coming in the near future. Philadelphia’s interest has been somewhat tepid so far, but that could be changing soon. The Eagles now have “increasing interest” in Leonard, Josina Anderson of CBS Sports reports.

The main reason for the change in thinking on the part of the NFC leaders is tied not to the 28-year-old’s potential but rather the injury status of Zach Cunningham, Anderson notes. The latter suffered a hamstring injury in yesterday’s overtime win, and the fact interest in a replacement has gained steam is certainly not a good sign for his short-term outlook. Cunningham has been a mainstay in the second level of Philadelphia’s second level, logging an 83% snap share and totaling 71 tackles.

Missing the former Texan and Titan for any length of time would thus deal a signficant blow to the Eagles’ defense. Leonard would represent a notable addition under any circumstances, but a starting spot potentially being available upon signing could sway his decision-making process. The three-time All-Pro’s displeasure with his workload this season played a role in the Colts’ decision to move on from him. That has left Leonard on the open market with a shortlist of interested suitors.

The Cowboys and Eagles are among them, but the Vikings and Broncos have also been reported as having Leonard on their radar. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year has no need to rush into a decision, but having a Cowboys visit on the books will likely accelerate the process by which he finds a new home. He would add at least a highly experienced depth option at the LB spot for any acquiring team, and it would come as little surprise if he elected to join Philadelphia since the reigning NFC champions are again poised for a deep postseason run.

The 10-1 Eagles sit near the bottom of the NFL in cap space with just over $2.4MM in available funds. While that could put them at a disadvantage in a potential bidding war, Philadelphia will remain a team to watch closely in the coming days with respect to Leonard as well as Cunningham’s injury status.

LB Shaquille Leonard To Visit Cowboys

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.

Cowboys, Eagles Expected To Show Interest In Shaquille Leonard

Both the Eagles and Cowboys looked into linebackers before the trade deadline. While Shaquille Leonard was not mentioned in trade rumors, the former Colts standout is now available. After clearing waivers Wednesday afternoon, Leonard can seek out a free agency fit.

The two NFC East powers, per’s Adam Schefter, are expected to circle back to their linebacker need. Now that a player of Leonard’s caliber is unattached, that certainly makes sense. Each is believed to have some interest here. Both teams have endured injuries at the position and obviously profile as contenders.

Dallas and Philadelphia use 4-3 looks. Leonard enjoyed one of the most prolific runs by a 4-3 linebacker in modern NFL history, dominating in Matt Eberflus‘ scheme from 2018-21 and being named to four All-Pro teams. The Colts did not view Leonard as the same caliber of player this season, keeping his snaps well down from his peak usage. Leonard is coming off a year in which he underwent two back surgeries, the second of which requiring rehab into this offseason. But he rehabbed in time to be ready for Week 1 and has played nine games this year.

Leonard, 28, is not expected to sign immediately, with’s Ian Rapoport indicating this process might take a few days. This is how the Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes played out in 2021, and given Leonard’s medical issues, it would not surprise to see this market dragging for a bit. But the former second-round pick should be on track to land elsewhere and contribute this season.

Although the Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons as a linebacker, the 2021 first-rounder quickly graduated to pass-rushing duty. The Cowboys have refused to label Parsons as a pure defensive end, but he sees much of his reps at that marquee spot. At linebacker, Dallas has lost both Leighton Vander Esch and third-round rookie DeMarvion Overshown for the season. Overshown suffered an ACL tear during training camp, while Vander Esch’s neck trouble has resurfaced to the point his career may be in jeopardy. The Cowboys re-signed Vander Esch to a two-year, $8MM deal this offseason. The Cowboys have used second-year players Damone Clark and Markquese Bell, a converted safety, as their primary linebackers as of late.

Jerry Jones made it known his team was not planning to be aggressive at the deadline, displaying confidence in the team already in place. But the Cowboys did go after some linebacking help. With the Vander Esch update coming after the trade deadline, it makes sense Dallas poked around. The Eagles joined their rivals in eyeing second-level help, and they have seen their LB centerpiece — Nakobe Dean — land on IR twice this season.

Philly let starters T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White walk this offseason, devoting funds to other areas. A 2022 third-rounder, Dean became the defending NFC champs’ centerpiece player here heading into the season. The Eagles added Nicholas Morrow on a veteran-minimum deal to supplement Dean, but the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year was viewed as the anchor. Two foot injuries have stalled Dean, however, making Morrow and late-summer addition Zach Cunningham as the team’s lead LBs. Nick Sirianni was in place as Colts OC during Leonard’s first three seasons.

After voicing frustration at the Colts keeping his snaps at the 70% level, the four-time All-Pro should have his chance to craft a bounce-back arc. Pro Football Focus ranks Leonard’s 2023 work outside the top 60 among linebackers, though he did not prove a fit in Gus Bradley‘s defense. In his previous healthy season, Leonard combined to force 12 turnovers — eight forced fumbles, four INTs — despite dealing with a back problem that required surgery. Because no team claimed Leonard, the Colts are now on the hook for the remaining $6.11MM of his 2023 base salary.

Colts Waive LB Shaquille Leonard

NOVEMBER 22: As expected, Leonard cleared waivers today, per The Athletic’s Dianna Russini. Detached from his lucrative Colts contract, the standout linebacker is now a free agent.

NOVEMBER 21: After steady complaints about his diminished role, Shaquille Leonard will be changing teams. The perennial All-Pro linebacker will shockingly become available; Leonard announced Tuesday the Colts are cutting him. Indianapolis has announced the separation.

This comes barely two years after the Colts authorized a record-setting extension for the former second-round success story, but Leonard has not been a fit in Gus Bradley‘s defensive system. After an injury-plagued 2022, Leonard has not returned to a full-time workload this season. Although Leonard bristled about his usage, Fox59’s Mike Chappell notes he did not ask the Colts to cut him.

A force in Matt Eberflus‘ defense, Leonard signed a five-year, $98.5MM extension before the 2021 season. The Colts owe Leonard $6.11MM in remaining base salary this season — should no team claim him — and the AFC South club is on the hook for an additional $8MM in dead money due to prorated signing bonus. This cut’s full cost to the Colts will not be determined until waivers process.

Certain teams do have the cap space to pick up the remainder of Leonard’s 2023 base salary, a move that would help the Colts on the financial front. But ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler notes Leonard is expected to clear waivers. No fully guaranteed money is attached to this contract beyond 2023. This will set up one of the more interesting in-season free agency derbies in recent years.

Shaq is the ultimate competitor and has been a fan favorite since he arrived as a rookie in 2018,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said. “We are incredibly grateful for his contributions to the team and the city of Indianapolis over the last six seasons. … He will always be a valued member of the Horseshoe.”

Leonard, 28, earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2018, 2020 and ’21 and was a second-team choice in 2019. The Division I-FCS product became a turnover-forcing machine during Eberflus’ four-year run as Indy’s DC. In 2021 alone, Leonard caused an astounding 12 turnovers — four INTs, an NFL-most eight forced fumbles — to help the Colts to the playoff precipice. Over the course of his career, Leonard has forced 17 fumbles and intercepted 12 passes.

The 49ers, Browns, Cardinals and Bengals each hold more than $10MM in cap space, while a handful of other teams carry more than $7MM. It would be interesting to see if a team submits a claim in an effort to secure Leonard’s rights beyond 2023; his current contract runs through 2025. The Bears come to mind as a team that could be interested, as they have made buyer’s trades despite holding one of the league’s worst records in back-to-back years. Eberflus also coached Leonard throughout his Indianapolis tenure, though Chicago did spend top-five ILB money on Tremaine Edmunds this offseason. T.J. Edwards signed a midlevel Bears deal as well, potentially cutting Chicago off early here. The Cowboys and Eagles pursued linebackers at the deadline as well — Nick Sirianni was on Frank Reich‘s Colts staff for three years — while the Steelers have lost two regulars for the season.

Leonard is also coming off a year in which he underwent two back surgeries. After a summer 2022 procedure did not clear up the issue, Leonard was eventually shut down in November of last year. He ended up playing three games in the Reich-Jeff Saturday season, also suffering a concussion and a broken nose, but was ready to go for Week 1 of this year. Bradley, however, refused to use Leonard as his play-calling predecessor did. Leonard (454 defensive snaps) logged a 70% snap rate this season. His snap shares from 2018-21: 98%, 98%, 93%, 98%.

In addition to Leonard being unhappy with his role under Bradley, Pro Football Focus ranks the once-dominant defender outside the top 60 among off-ball linebackers this season. Leonard has made 65 tackles in nine games, but just two of those were for losses; the sixth-year ‘backer also does not have a fumble forced, fumble recovered or an INT this season.

The Colts have used Zaire Franklin on more defensive plays (634), and the recently re-signed E.J. Speed has logged 357 defensive snaps. This duo will represent a lower-cost pair compared to Leonard, whom the Colts did not believe was living up to his lucrative contract. The Colts could have hung on and saved some money by cutting Leonard in 2024; that move would have created $12MM in cap savings for the retooled team. But the now-Shane Steichen-led squad will attempt to make a playoff push without one of the most productive defenders in franchise history.

It will obviously be interesting to see where Leonard lands and if he can prove Bradley and Co. wrong. Claims for Leonard must be submitted by 3pm CT Wednesday. Beyond that, Leonard figures to have a few suitors in free agency.

Colts Leaned Toward Deactivating Shaquille Leonard For Rest Of Season

Shaquille Leonard remains on the waiver wire, though the decorated off-ball linebacker is likely to hit free agency after this afternoon’s deadline. In the unusual position of being cut during his age-28 season, the sixth-year defender is now an interesting piece for contenders to pursue.

The Colts did not believe they were receiving value from the four-time All-Pro and decided to cut bait now as opposed to doing so after the season. This will stand to benefit Leonard, as’s Stephen Holder notes Indianapolis DC Gus Bradley had informed the veteran he would be a healthy scratch in Week 12. It is also likely the Colts would have continued to deactivate Leonard for the rest of the season, Holder adds.

Leonard said he asked for a November meeting to assess his progress from a two-surgery 2022, per the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Atkins. Granting the meeting Monday, Bradley confirmed the healthy-scratch plan for Week 12. On the players’ off day Tuesday, Chris Ballard indicated Leonard would be cut — a decision the former Colts centerpiece called “shocking.” Coaches had informed Leonard his playing time — down noticeably from his 2018-21 usage — would be reevaluated as the season progressed, and the turnover-forcing dynamo had voiced frustration about the new role in Bradley’s defense.

I always say that they say [complaints] are OK until you step on toes. I said that two weeks ago and I still stand by it,” Leonard said, via Holder, of his comments regarding playing time. “I don’t know if that played a part. Do I think it plays somewhat of a part in it? Yes, because they could see it as a distraction. But I tried to be respectful with my answer.”

Zaire Franklin leads Colts linebackers in snaps, with 634. Leonard logged 454 in nine games. The improved play of E.J. Speed contributed to Leonard’s reduced time as well, according to’s Dan Graziano, who doubles down on the notion Leonard will clear waivers today. The Colts re-signed Franklin (three years, $10MM) in 2022 and reupped Speed (two years, $8MM) this offseason. Leonard was attached to the NFL’s second-most lucrative LB accord (five years, $98.5MM). While no guaranteed money remains on the deal post-2023, a team would be responsible for $6.11MM in ’23 base salary were a claim submitted.

Speed will now move forward as Indy’s starting weakside linebacker. Pro Football Focus rates Speed, a 2019 fifth-round pick who has primarily been a backup, as the Colts’ top linebacker this season. When Franklin missed the team’s Week 9 game against the Panthers, Leonard’s playing time did not return to his pre-2022 level. Instead, the Colts used second-year UDFA Segun Olubi more frequently. This effectively displayed writing on the wall for Leonard in Indianapolis, despite the former second-round pick having produced one of the best four-year runs for any player in franchise history.

While Leonard certainly could prove the Colts wrong for their effective demotion in Bradley’s system, the team will save more than $16MM in cap space for 2024. With both Franklin and Speed under contract beyond this year, Indy will take a look at how this more cost-effective tandem performs during this season’s stretch run. Still, Leonard offered one of the more impactful periods by an off-ball linebacker this century. He is the only active player with at least 15 sacks and 10 interceptions over the past six years. It will be interesting to see what role his new team will have him playing to close out the season.

LB Shaquille Leonard Frustrated With Role

Last year saw the most limited season of Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard‘s career. As he continues to work his way back from the injury that derailed his 2022 season, his defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has publicly disclosed that Leonard is still on a timeline that will determine how soon he is able to return to a full-time role, with the current goal being sometime this month, according to Mike Chappell of FOX59/CBS4 Sports.

A three-time first-team All-Pro, Leonard was suffering a persistent back injury that limited him to only three games last year. Back surgery aimed at addressing the issue occurred before the 2022 season, forcing him to miss the first three games of the year. When he finally made his season debut, he only saw 16 snaps before exiting with a concussion. He would eventually play limited snaps in two more games before being placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the year after undergoing a second back surgery.

Since coming back, Leonard has returned to a starting role, playing in eight of the team’s nine games so far this year. While he’s looked a bit like his old self, flying all over the field in order to be a top-four tackler on the team, the staff has been a bit disappointed by his lack of flash plays. Usually a disruptive turnover machine, Leonard has forced no fumbles, has broken up or intercepted zero passes, and has been unable to land a hit on an opposing quarterback, while accumulating only two tackles for loss.

While he’s been starting, Leonard has still been on a limited snap count, while fellow Colt Zaire Franklin, the NFL’s leading tackler, has seen virtually every defensive snap of the season for Indianapolis. He recently voiced his displeasure with the situation, according to Nate Atkins of the Indianapolis Star, claiming he wants to be on the field 100 percent of the time. “My patience was kind of thrown out the window,” Leonard told the media. “I want to be on the field. If I want to buy a ticket, I can sit in the stands or something.”

Bradley told the media that he understands Leonard’s frustration and wants him to keep that hunger but was clear that the plan would remain the same, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. Even last week, when Franklin was forced to miss the Colts’ contest in Carolina, instead of bumping up the playing time of Leonard, the staff turned to second-year undrafted backup Segun Olubi. Olubi saw 100 percent of the team’s snaps in his first start last weekend; Leonard saw only 55 percent.

ESPN’s Stephen Holder offered another perspective of Leonard’s struggles to return to the field full-time, suggesting that the defensive scheme could have something to do with it. Bradley only joined the Colts coaching staff last year, a season in which Leonard barely saw the field. Leonard was previously the centerpiece of former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus‘ system, allowing him to roam and make plays using his instincts.

Bradley’s new system tends to funnel plays to the middle linebacker, allowing Franklin more opportunities to make plays on the ball than Leonard gets at his weakside position. It requires much more structure from Leonard, especially by asking him to take on more blocks, a difficult role for one of the league’s smaller linebackers to strive in.

While it has not been suggested anywhere, there’s reason to believe these scheme issues could lead to Leonard’s eventual exit from Indianapolis. Leonard holds a $19.79MM cap hit this year, and it’s set to only get bigger over the next two seasons. If Leonard isn’t able to return to his regular All-Pro level of play in Bradley’s system, there isn’t much need for the Colts to dedicate such a high portion of their salary cap to retain him.

Speculation aside, Leonard will soon be able to return to a full-time role, if Bradley stays true to his word. A full-strength Leonard will finally have a chance to show his potential in Bradley’s system. Hopefully, Leonard will look more like his former self in the closing weeks of the season. If not, though, the Colts may have some questions to answer moving forward.