Shaquille Leonard has played in all but one game this season. After establishing himself as one of the best linebackers in football, the Indianapolis Colts and their fans couldn’t wait for him to return to the field. However, Leonard, in his return, hasn’t really had The Maniac level of impact that people have grown to expect from him.
Part of that is because Shaquille Leonard was away from the field for a while and he, admittedly, needed time to get back into his elite form. The other part is Leonard’s usage. The team has been limiting his snaps, hoping to gradually work him back into form. There’s one problem with this plan: Leonard has voiced his frustrations with it.
Ahead of the Week 8 game against the New Orleans Saints, Leonard made it clear that he wanted to be on the field for the big moments. On Thursday, Shaquille Leonard spoke with the media again and was very honest about his frustrations. He essentially explained that he feels likes he’s ready to play without restrictions but the staff disagrees.
Shaquille Leonard is frustrated with playing time with Colts
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had previously said that the plan was for Leonard to be fully back in November. Now that November has arrived, Leonard didn’t sound optimistic when asked if he’ll be playing without restrictions. Despite personally feeling ready, Leonard explained that his snaps will likely look similar to how they’ve been all year, maybe even worse.
Leonard argues that his play has gotten better each week, still, he said the team doesn’t believe he’s making enough splash plays— which is true based on stats. As Kevin Bowen pointed out in a recent piece, “Leonard has now gone 8 straight games without an interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery. That’s the longest stretch in his career without recording one of those turnovers.”
Turnovers are a trademark of Leonard’s game; he’s the turnover king. So, it’s fair to somewhat judge his level by the plays he’s making on the ball. However, Leonard believes there’s a reason he hasn’t made any splash plays this season. In addition to the limited snaps, he highlights how his role in the defense has changed. Instead of being the play-making linebacker, he’s now in a position where he’s forcing things to Zaire Franklin or a safety.
Leonard definitely has a point; it’s hard to judge him in his play-making ability if he’s not necessarily in the position to make plays. Still, Leonard has praised Franklin and EJ Speed for playing phenomenal, while emphasizing that he’ll just give his all for the snaps that he is on the field and will be the best cheerleader for the snaps that he’s on the sideline.
This will definitely be a situation to monitor for the rest of the year and heading into the 2024 offseason. While Leonard is under contract with the Colts until 2027, the franchise does have a potential out in 2024. If Indy takes the out, Leonard will be released and the team will only have eight million in dead cap. However, if the Colts stick with Leonard into next season, they’ll owe him $46.76 million over the final three years of the contract.
It's hard to imagine a team paying a player that much to play limited snaps. That means the rest of this season will either be Leonard reclaiming his role as the star linebacker for the Colts or him playing his final games with the franchise.