February 22, 2024

Shaquille Leonard landing spots: Ex-Colts linebacker expected to visit Cowboys this week, per report

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Indianapolis Colts are coming out of the bye week without one of the games on their defense in recent years. On Tuesday, Indianapolis released linebacker Shaquille Leonard. He cleared waivers on Wednesday and is now a free agent. The former All-Pro confirmed the news on social media with a post saying goodbye to the franchise and the city.

“Indy, I want to thank you for accepting me and my family with open arms,” Leonard wrote. “The last six years have been nothing short of incredible! Through the good times and the bad, you have all been by my side. I apologize for not bringing that trophy back to the 317. The energy at Lucas Oil has been nothing but amazing and I thank you for every memory. I’m grateful to play in front of such a great fan base. I love you and wish the Colts nothing but the best!”

Colts owner Jim Irsay also took to social media in the wake of the move to reminisce about Leonard’s tenure, while also acknowledging that the NFL is a “tough business.”

“Colts Nation will always remember The Maniac’s palpable energy on the field with every tackle, interception, punchout and fumble,” Irsay said in a statement. “Off the field, he is a servant leader and has helped countless families both in his hometown and in the Indianapolis community. We are grateful for Shaq and the contributions he has made to our organization. We wish him and his beautiful family all the best for the future.”

Leonard — who requested in 2022 to use his middle name, Shaquille, instead of his first name, Darius — arrived in Indianapolis in 2018 as a second-round draft pick out of South Carolina State. He made an immediate impact for the Colts, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the league in tackles. During his tenure, he was a first-team All-Pro three times and named to the Pro Bowl four times.

However, Leonard has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. He was limited to just three games in 2022 due to offseason back surgery, suffered a concussion in Week 4 of that year, and then was placed on injured reserve in Week 10 after a setback with his back injury. Leonard has started and started nine games for the Colts this season and has posted 65 tackles.

It was unlikely that a team would claim Leonard off waivers and take on his current contract. If a team had done that, they would have owed him about $6 million in base salary for the remainder of this season, and more than $13 million per season (including $19 million in 2026) for the next three seasons. It was much more realistic for this situation to arise, where he is now free to sign a more palatable contract with a new club, since being cleared on waivers.

Landing sites

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys appear to be looking to add a linebacker as Mike McCarthy’s team has a need at that position. They lost the rookie in the third round DeMarvion Overshown with a torn ACL in training campand the Cowboys were still left thin in the aftermath of their loss Leighton Vander Esch is out for the season due to a neck injury.

Dallas represents an opportunity for Leonard to join a Super Bowl contender where he can fill a substantial role for one of the best defenses in the NFL, and Leonard will apparently visit Dallas in the coming week. The Dallas Morning News reports that the official date of that visit has yet to be determined, but the possibility of signing Leonard is something that team owner and general manager Jerry Jones is considering,

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Jones said after the Cowboys’ loss over Washington on Thanksgiving. “I’m not trying to be coy. I really don’t know at this point. Contact has been made, but I’m sure every team is assuming that if they’re in the hunt, they could be interested in him. First of all, we have some questions that we need to check health wise, things like that. I don’t want to be on that list right now. I want to go do our homework and do what we should do and see if this thing would suit us. More than we didn’t do that.’

Jones also declined to elaborate much on how much he could help his defense if signed.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “We had a quick meeting about that before the game and we’ll see how we do with our evaluation. We’ll look at him pretty closely. Look at some health issues. I know a lot of teams are looking at him.” “I don’t want to give any indication of the extent of our interest in him.”

McCarthy, meanwhile, told reporters: “I have nothing to say about Shaq, but yes, there is definitely interest.”

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers linebacker room has been decimated by injuries. So much so that they had to lure Myles Jack out of retirement to help fill the void. Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander both recently suffered season-ending injuries and started Mykal Walker last Sunday against the Browns after previously being on the practice squad. Leonard could realistically come in and compete for a starting job, or slot himself into the rotation with Walker, Jack and Elandon Roberts to help stabilize this group for Pittsburgh.

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo could use depth at the linebacker spot as this defense has been hit by several key injuries this season, including Matt Milano. That doesn’t even mention that the Bills also lost linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in free agency last season, so there’s a hole here that Leonard could help fill. Tyrel Dodson and Terrel Bernard were the starting linebackers, and Leonard could be a rotation option the Bills could target.

Philadelphia Eagles

If Leonard wants to be a legitimate contributor to a Super Bowl contender, the Eagles are a meaningful landing spot now that he’s a free agent. Philly leaned on Zach Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow as the linebacker duo after Nakobe Dean was sent to injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury. Leonard would be an ideal addition to Cunningham and Morrow to help solidify this position group for the postseason. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s familiarity here with head coach Nick Sirianni, who was the Colts’ offensive coordinator from 2018 to 2020 and saw firsthand what Leonard is capable of when he’s firing on all cylinders.

Chicago bears

If Leonard is looking for a team to join for a deep playoff run, the Bears are not a fit. However, there is a relationship here with Chicago with head coach Matt Eberflus. He was Leonard’s defensive coordinator in Indy when he first entered the league in 2018 and during his most productive years in the league. If Leonard wants to reignite that magic, then Chicago makes sense.

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