INDIANAPOLIS – A player who was once on on a path to Canton, Ohio has now been cut by the Indianapolis Colts.
After weeks of play from Leonard not living up to the $20 million contract he is owed, and continued public comments airing his frustration over a scaled back role, the Colts decided to send some shockwaves around the NFL by releasing No. 53.
That move came on Tuesday afternoon, as the Colts return from their bye week in the thick of a playoff race.
And this move was not Leonard asking to be released, as the 27-year-old clearly stated on Tuesday evening. This was the Colts, under new head coach Shane Steichen, making quite the accountability statement.
Through Leonard’s first four seasons in the NFL, he was on a Hall of Fame like-pace with elite playmaking hardly ever seen from an off-ball linebacker.
It’s why the Colts rewarded him just prior to the start of the 2021 season with a $100 million contract.
But lingering ankle pain, and an inability to take care of it, led to Leonard needing two back surgeries in a 5-month span last year (the first one coming last June, followed by another in November).
Leonard’s play on the field over the last couple of years, which included the arrival of Gus Bradley as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2022, was nowhere near the level at in which the Colts were paying him.
Those splash plays Leonard had made normal, had vanished.
The Colts decreased his playing time to splitting reps on 1st and 2nd down, followed by removing him from any third-down role.
And the Colts had good reason to do, even if Leonard didn’t agree, based off what No. 53 showing them in 2023.
Still though, a Tuesday waive in the month of November of one of your highest-paid players, a 5-year captain, is something this franchise has never really done.
Any team that puts a waiver claim in for Leonard would now owe him $6.1 million for the rest of the 2023 season. If he passes through waivers, which seems likely, he would then become a free agent. Leonard was under contract through the 2026 season. By waiving him, the Colts do save $55 million over the next 3 years, but they also take on $12 million in dead cap, spread across the 2024 and 2025 years.
The finances of this always had the makings of Leonard no longer being with the Colts after the 2023 season, but it’s the mid-season timing of it that stands out.
It’s extremely rare to see a team, let alone the Colts, have a full-time starter be released mid-season. And especially one that has his picture plastered on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium.
But that goes to show you where the Colts felt they were at with Leonard after more self-scouting during the team’s bye week.
One of Shane Steichen’s pillars is accountability, and this is a boulder-like statement in showing that, particularly when the in-season benefit of such a move is hard to quantify.
Clearly though, Leonard’s below-standard play on the field, coupled with public comments about his lack of playing time struck the wrong cord with an organization that drafted him in the 2nd round of 2018 Draft.
With Tuesday’s news, which came just hours before Leonard’s annual turkey giveaway in Indianapolis expect E.J. Speed’s playing time to expand to virtually every snap alongside Zaire Franklin.
The Colts sent out the following statements in announcing the Leonard waive:
Colts Owner & CEO Jim Irsay
“Colts Nation will always remember The Maniac’s palpable energy on the field with each tackle, interception, punchout, and fumble recovery. Off the field, he’s a servant leader and assisted numerous families in both his hometown and the Indianapolis community. We’re thankful for Shaq and the contributions he made to our organization. We wish him and his beautiful family the best moving forward.”
Colts General Manager Chris Ballard
“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.”
Colts Head Coach Shane Steichen
“I’m thankful for the energy Shaq brought to our team on a daily basis. He’s a competitor, a leader, and is respected among his teammates. I wish him all the best.”
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