INDIANAPOLIS – A second back surgery in five months has ended Shaquille Leonard’s 2022 season.
Following a setback in practice last Wednesday, Leonard playing again in 2022 quickly became in doubt.
Leonard found another opinion on an injury situation that’s plagued him for years.
Surgery was deemed necessary late last week, and Leonard underwent that Tuesday. This comes after Leonard had an initial back surgery on June 7th to relieve the pressure on two discus in his back, which was sending persistent pain through his leg/ankle.
Watching Leonard in limited game action this season it was clear he was not his typical self.
This marks a third surgery for Leonard in the last 15 months. He had ankle surgery last June, just a couple of months before he signed the 5-year, $100-million contract he’s currently under.
In missing just 1 game last season, Leonard looked like an All-Pro at times (creating 12 forced fumbles/interceptions), while also having some severe limitations at other moments.
As this past offseason unfolded, Leonard felt that he was done with the surgery side of things, as late as May.
But a June back surgery became the new course of action in trying to correct a nerve issue that was continuing to impact the pain through his leg, calf and into his ankle.
Leonard missed the first 3 games of this past season, before making his 2022 debut against the Titans in Week Four. That didn’t last long though, as a friendly fire hit from Zaire Franklin concussed Leonard and broke No. 53’s nose in the first half.
After missing the next 3 games, Leonard played in consecutive games against the Commanders (24 defensive snaps) and Patriots (34 defensive snaps), before having the practice setback last Wednesday.
“The past two games, I see myself moving around better, but it’s still not there,” Leonard said last Thursday, following the practice setback. “That nerve still isn’t firing into my calf, so it’s just a lot of film study. I think that’s the reason why I can play today is because of how much film that I’ve watched, and I got to put myself into position to make a play because I know I’m a step behind.”
Unlike recent offseasons, the Colts now face several linebacker questions in 2023.
One is the health of Leonard moving forward. The 27-year-old is under contract through the 2026 season. Moving on from Leonard would bring a significant dead cap hit, with that number dropping to $8 million following the 2023 campaign. Leonard’s own health and playing future is also of concern. Anytime nerve regeneration is brought up, questions about the rest of a guy’s career are relevant. Does a second back surgery mean his nerve issues will subside and he can play at the peak level of athleticism he has brought to the game? That’s a question for a guy playing linebacker at around 215 pounds. Elite instincts, which Leonard certainly has, can only cover up so much in the physical department if these back/ankle issues continue.
Along with the Leonard cloud, the Colts have linebacker free agents in Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed. Both guys have played good football in their respective roles this season, and will garner free agent interest. Does this Leonard news impact how the Colts view those upcoming decisions on two former draft picks?
The uncertainty with the Colts current GM/HC operation also impacts how this Leonard news relates to the linebacker position. Will Gus Bradley still be here in 2023? If the Colts make a defensive change, will linebacker gain or lose importance? If Chris Ballard is still here, does he opt to go into the draft for another linebacker, knowing it’s been the most successful position he’s drafted in his tenure?
There’s a reason why Leonard has a place as 1 of the 4 Colts on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Now though, there’s definite questions about his future in Indy, particularly playing at the Hall of Fame caliber level he has shown through five NFL seasons.
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