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Indianapolis Colts release All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard

The Indianapolis Colts have released linebacker Shaquille Leonard, cutting ties with the former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and four-time Pro Bowl selection after six seasons.

Leonard, 28, was the 36th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Selected out of South Carolina State, he immediately became one of the NFL’s best linebackers as a rookie. Not only did he win NFL DROY, but Leonard earned his first Pro Bowl selection and was voted first-team All-Pro.

  • Shaquille Leonard career stats: 385 solo tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 20 QB hits, 15 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries in 70 career games

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A leader of the Colts’ defense for years, Leonard was one of the best defensive playmakers in the NFL. He led the league in forced fumbles in 2018 and recorded at least two forced fumbles per season from 2018-21.

However, injuries took a toll on the veteran linebacker. He played in only three games last season and underwent multiple procedures to try and return to form in 2023. After playing nine games for Indianapolis, the Colts officially released Leonard on Tuesday.

Leonard released a statement on X, thanking the Colts’ organization and the fans for their support since he entered the league.

“Indy, I want to thank you for accepting me and my family with open arms. These past 6 years has been nothing but incredible! Through the good times and bad time y’all stood by my side. I apologize for not bringing that trophy back to the 317. The energy in Lucas Oil has been nothing but amazing and I thank you for every memory. I’m thankful to play for such an amazing fan base. I love you guys and wish the Colts nothing but the best!

Darius Shaquille Leonard after being released by Indianapolis Colts
  • Shaquille Leonard stats 2023: 34 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss in 9 games

While Leonard has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL, he’s struggled this season returning from injuries. Entering NFL games today, Pro Football Focus graded him as the 62nd-best off-ball linebacker in the NFL, receiving below-average grades as a run defender (64.3), in pass coverage (56.4) and becoming a non-factor as a pass rusher (49.2 PFF grade).

Colts general manager Chris Ballard released an official statement following Leonard’s release, thanking him for his contributions to Indianapolis.

“Shaq is the ultimate competitor and has been a fan favorite since he arrived as a rookie in 2018. We are incredibly grateful for his contributions to the team and the city of Indianapolis over the last six seasons. We wish him the best and he will always be a valued member of the Horseshoe.”

Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard following the release of Shaquille Leonard

Releasing Leonard allows Indianapolis to provide its young defenders with more playing time. Following Leonard’s release, Segun Olubi and Grant Stuard will likely receive more snaps in the final weeks of the regular season. The Colts also created $12 million in cap space for 2024 by releasing Leonard.

Given his age, numerous NFL teams will likely bring Leonard in for a free-agent visit and physical if he clears waivers. However, he hasn’t been the same since undergoing a second major back surgery in a five-month span and he had already tied his career-high in missed tackles (nine) before December.

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As noted by Field Yates of ESPN, any team that claimed Leonard off waivers would owe him the remainder of his $6.1 million salary for the 2023 season. He would also be owed $16.1 million in 2024, $19 million in 2025 and $19.6 million in 2027. The expectation is all 31 other NFL teams will allow him to clear waivers and become a free agent.

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