Shaq Leonard was not highly touted coming out of South Carolina State University (an HBCU school) but he did enough to catch the eye of Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard. That resulted in Leonard being drafted a little higher than most thought in the 2018 Draft. Most draft pundits had him slotted in the end of the second round into the third, but Indy selected him early in the second round with the 36th-overall pick.
The highly criticized selection laid off, because from 2018 to 2021, Leonard delivered on Indy’s expectations, if not exceeded them. He led the NFL in solo and combined tackles in his rookie season and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. During his first four seasons, he got votes or was named to the All-Pro team and was also named to three consecutive Pro Bowls. He got the nickname The Maniac due to his ability to be ubiquitous on the field and cause constant havoc.
After the 2021 season, Leonard had a medical procedure performed on his back to fix a nerve issue. He started the 2022 season on the PUP list, then returned for a few games only to be sidelined again after suffering a concussion and broken nose immediately following his return. He was then placed on season ending IR after re-aggravating the back issue, and did not have any playing time after Week 10 of last season.
He had another nerve procedure to hopefully fix the issue completely this time around and was able to start training camp healthy. However, he miss Indy’s Week 5 game with a groin injury. As he works to find his way back, Leonard’s future in Indy is starting to become a conversation.
Does Shaquille Leonard have a future with the Colts?
It is not uncommon for athletes that play at a high level for an extended period, then eventually break down. For some, it happens sooner rather than later. For Leonard, it appears the breakdown has come fast and furious for him.
Since 2022, he has not been able to be The Maniac we knew him to be. He has been outplayed by both Zaire Franklin and EJ Speed since last season. Leonard is continuing to battle injuries and has appeared to have lost a step as of late. Franklin, on the other hand, is currently leading the NFL in tackles and has been the anchor for the defense this season. Speed has also been getting better and better with each week.
The emergence of Franklin and Speed, coupled with Leonard’s contract, makes a divorce seem inevitable. The franchise has some flexibility to work with Leonard’s expensive contract. The Colts have an out in the contract this coming offseason that will allow them to cut Leonard and only take a dead cap hit of $8 million. If he remains on the roster into next season, Indianapolis will owe him $55.374 million over the final three years of the deal.
You cannot justify paying someone that is showing a decline in production and availability over $18 million a year for the next three seasons. Combine that with the fact that the Colts will need to free up some more space for a new Micheal Pittman Jr. deal. If Shaq Leonard cannot get back to his All-Pro ways by December, we may be watching the last of him in a Colts uniform.