The Indianapolis Colts surprised many on Tuesday with news that they were releasing linebacker Shaquille Leonard from their roster. Leonard’s play has declined recently, but he was once considered on of the best linebackers in the league. Even at his currently skill set, should Los Angeles consider the six-year veteran an upgrade worth taking a chance on?
Leonard is scheduled to make $15.7 million guaranteed base salary, with about $6.1M for the rest of this season. He also has another $6.5M guaranteed for injury in 2024, and while that is way out of the Rams price range, it is unlikely that he will be claimed on waivers given the large contract. Leonard clearing waivers would then make the move possible for LA.
Rookie Byron Young is the Rams starter at weak side linebacker right now, and has had some great performances thus far in his first year, however, Leonard could provide some much needed depth and a veteran presence that has been missing in the linebacker room since the loss of Bobby Wagner this offseason.
In no way am I saying that Leonard should be replacing Young on the field, but in a rotational role or even a situation where he potentially takes some snaps over Michael Hoecht opposite of Young, it could be an intriguing and cheap move for LA. Leonard would also have the ability to play in the middle as well, as he has experience playing both inside and outside linebacker. Most recently Zaire Franklin took over the middle linebacker position for the Colts, with Leonard moving to the outside upon his return to the lineup.
Leonard currently has a PFF score of 60.3, which would be a slight improvement over Hoecht’s 52.8, but speaking purely from a coverage standpoint, Leonard would be far better than Hoecht, who converted from the defensive line to outside linebacker this offseason, and has looked out of place covering backs and tight ends. Leonard would also be an immediate upgrade for the snaps that Troy Reeder has been getting the middle.
Leonard is still only 28-years-old and has 65 total tackles so far in 2023. From 2018-2021 he had over 100 tackles in each his first four years, including a 163 tackle rookie season. If defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could somehow tap into his early career talent, it could be a home run signing for Los Angeles, specifically at a position of need.