Indianapolis Colts star Darius Leonard could soon become the highest-paid inside off-ball linebacker in the NFL, shattering the record-setting contract just signed by Fred Warner.
The San Francisco 49ers signed Warner to a five-year, $95 million contract to make him one of the highest=paid players in football. But the talented off-ball defender may not hold the mark for long with Leonard expected to sign an even bigger extension.
According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, many around the league expect Leonard’s contract extension to set the market and it could potentially hit $19.5 million per season.
The Colts have been very cautious about spending their money, largely passing over free-agent talent to focus on retaining their top players. With the NFL salary cap rising in 2022, Indianapolis is projected to have more than $80 million in cap space.
With both Leonard and All-Pro lineman Quenton Nelson due for extensions, the Colts’ approach to spending puts them in a strong position to maintain their core on both sides of the ball.
Projecting a Darius Leonard contract extension
A 2018 second-round pick, Leonard has proven to be one of the biggest NFL Draft steals in recent memory. He earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie and led the NFL in tackles, quickly becoming one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
- Darius Leonard stats: 132 combined tackles, seven pass deflections, seven tackles for loss, three forced fumbles
The 6-foot-2 linebacker has played at a high level since he took his first snap. While his overall production was down in 2020, he still received an 84.6 PFF pass-rush grade and made a positive impact in every aspect of the game.
Indianapolis is fully aware of what would happen if Leonard hit the open market. With teams placing greater emphasis on elite off-ball linebackers, it’s not hard to imagine at least one team might be willing to offer $20 million per season. So, the Colts will work to extend him before he hits the open market.
Ultimately, it wouldn’t be surprising if Leonard signs a five-year, $97 million extension before the Colts’ schedule kicks off for Week 1. Both sides would be happy with the deal and it would erase any uncertainty for the upcoming season.