The Colts announced the release of Shaquille Leonard today, and news of the move has shocked NFL fans. Leonard is one of the top defenders in the NFL and was in the middle of a mega-extension before getting cut. It seems as though he was displeased with his role, and the Colts, not being a competitor, granted his release.
Leonard had one of the strongest first four seasons in recent memory. A hybrid edge-rusher and off-ball linebacker in college, he settled into the latter role. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Leonard tallied three all-pro nods and two Pro Bowl appearances before playing on his new deal. He seemed like a blossoming superstar on defense.
Injuries derailed his 2022 season, and the Colts reduced his role on their defense this year. It seems like he was slowly getting phased out of the defense, and given the fact he was cut today likely means he would have been released in the offseason. That said, the Steelers must be interested in bringing him in.
The Steelers need some linebacker help
It is no secret that the Steelers are in need of some linebacker help right now. They lost starter Cole Holcomb for the season, and veteran replacement Kwon Alexander was lost in the following game. The once deep room is now shallow.
This is evident by the moves that this team has made over the past few days. Myles Jack and the team have reunited, and veteran linebacker Blake Martinez was signed off the Panthers practice squad. None of those players are even remotely as good as Leonard is, making his potential additional a no-brainer.
The issue will likely come down to his contract. Leonard can currently be claimed on waivers, but that would mean any team claiming him takes on his over six million dollar salary as well as the remainder of his contract. That gets very expensive past this season and has some injury guarantees to account for.
There is a real chance that no team claims him. Pittsburgh would, in theory, make sense as a landing spot. He would have an open starter spot to try and claim, and the Steelers have a good record. Given that the season is already past the halfway point though, Leonard may need a game or two to adjust. He also likely wants to play for a competitor.
While the Steelers record says that they have a chance, their actual play makes it seem like that isn’t the case. Perhaps Leonard would overlook that, but there is no promise of that. Claiming him is a risk contractually, and I’m not sure if he willingly chooses to sign with the Steelers.
That said, the Colts just handed some team a Thanksgiving gift, and Pittsburgh would be wise to pounce. I’m not sure I would claim him and take on that contract, but Omar Khan needs to be on the phone trying to get this guy right now. If they do land him, it would be a huge boost to this defense.