NFL teams don’t often release franchise icons heading into Week 12, but that’s precisely what happened on Tuesday when veteran linebacker Shaquille Leonard announced that he’s been cut by the Indianapolis Colts.
Why did the Colts part ways with Leonard at this point in the season, and where are his top landing spots around the league?
Why Did the Colts Release Shaquille Leonard?
Leonard, a first-team All-Pro selection in three of his first four NFL campaigns, battled injuries in 2022 and appeared in only three games. He’s been healthy this year, but his playing time has dwindled.
Instead of seeing action on nearly every play as in past seasons, Leonard has managed just a 70% snap rate. Speculatively, Leonard may have asked for his release, although he didn’t mention such a request in his social media announcement.
Because the NFL’s trade deadline has already passed, Leonard will hit the waiver wire. Every team will have the opportunity to claim him, but they’d have to take on the $6.11 million remaining on his 2023 contract.
Only 14 clubs have enough cap space to fit Leonard’s salary on their books, per Over the Cap. Leonard will almost surely pass through waivers, allowing him to choose his next team. Where are his top landing spots?
Leonard’s Best Landing Spots
No defense has suffered more devastating injuries than the Bills’, who have already lost LB Matt Milano, CB Tre’Davious White, and DT DaQuan Jones for the rest of the season. Buffalo has seemingly settled on Tyrel Dodson as Milano’s replacement, but Leonard would give the Bills a veteran alternative as the playoffs approach.
The Bills’ Week 11 victory moved them to 6-5 and back into the AFC postseason mix. Leonard missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons with the Colts, so signing up to play alongside Josh Allen and Co. might be enticing to the 28-year-old.
Steelers LB Cole Holcomb went down with a season-ending injury in Week 9. Kwon Alexander, who stepped in for Holcomb alongside Elandon Roberts, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 10.
Pittsburgh is now down Elandon Robert and Mark Robinson at linebacker. With All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick sidelined for the time being, the spine of the Steelers’ defense is exposed. Leonard could go a long way toward rectifying that issue.
Damone Clark and Markquese Bell have done an outstanding job as the Cowboys’ primary off-ball linebackers following Leighton Vander Esch’s Week 5 injury. But Jerry Jones said last week that Vander Esch will not be able to return this season, so Dallas could use more depth.
Like the Bills, the Cowboys can offer Leonard the chance at a Super Bowl run. Dallas’ playoff spot is even more secure than Buffalo’s.
Los Angeles Chargers
Defense is supposed to be Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s specialty, but Los Angeles can’t stop anyone in 2023. The Bolts’ defense ranks bottom-five in DVOA, yards per play allowed, and points allowed per drive.
Eric Kendricks has been a decent free agent addition to the second level of the Chargers’ defense, but fellow LB Kenneth Murray Jr. remains a problem. L.A. doesn’t have much chance at the playoffs, so the club might not want to add veterans, but Leonard would start immediately.
Los Angeles Rams
If one Los Angeles team doesn’t work out, why not try the other? The Rams are still in the NFC Wild Card conversation after beating the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. While its offense is still humming, L.A. could afford to add more depth to its inexperienced defense.
The Rams are currently using LBs Christian Rozeboom and Troy Reeder behind full-time starter Ernest Jones. While Leonard hasn’t looked like his usual productive self this season, he can still offer better production than Los Angeles’ current duo.
From the current NFL standings to team depth charts to coverage of every game in the 18-week NFL schedule, we have all the news from around the league to keep you up to speed!