Indianapolis Colts’ three-time NFL All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who’s set to become a free agent following the 2021 season, sounds like he wants to remain with the only pro franchise he’s ever known—albeit at his rightfully earned market value (via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer):
Asked Colts LB Darius Leonard today about a potential contract extension — something the team wants done this summer. "You know what you've done, and you know what you deserve," he said. "Hopefully, they see as much value as I see."— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) May 18, 2021
Bet on this getting done relatively soon.
Along with emerging star starting right tackle Braden Smith, the former 2018 second round pick’s rookie contract expires after this upcoming season.
However, the Colts have been planning for such a moment for years, as general manager Chris Ballard has made it a point to maintain considerable salary cap flexibility to better help retain the franchise’s top homegrown talent going forward.
It’s safe to say that Leonard, only 25 years old, and already one of the best linebackers in all of football, currently fits the bill—having drawn NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks comparisons to begin his Canton-caliber early promising pro career.
Leonard’s a dynamic superstar linebacker who can simply stuff the stat-sheet, defend the run and properly cover, blitz, and make critical/clutch plays down the stretch of games.
Make no mistake about it, Leonard’s next contract will be quite huge—assuredly making him the highest paid player at the linebacker position (*among non-edge rushers).
Currently, Spotrac projects a 4-year, $76.17M million fair market value contract for Leonard (at an annual value of $19.04M per year).
For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report recently predicted a mega 5-year, $95M deal for Leonard.
The off ball LB market hasn't moved since Bobby Wagner's 3-year, $54M contract extension ($18M per year) in 2019. Topping Wagner should be Darius Leonard's objective. https://t.co/75x7L3Iifh— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) May 18, 2021
My guess is that Leonard will get a 5th-year too for ‘at first glance’ aesthetics, but it will be another story entirely of whether that last year will essentially be guaranteed (similar to the last two years of DeForest Buckner’s recent Colts’ frontloaded mega-extension—which aren’t).
Either way, it sounds like both sides want to get this lucrative contract extension done sooner rather than later—as the Colts have been preparing for this for quite a while now.
It would also behoove Indianapolis to get a new deal done with at least either Leonard or Smith this offseason—to save the franchise tag for potentially the other standout player (in case a long-term deal cannot be successfully hammered out in time ahead of next year’s free agency period, as the Colts only get one tag to use).