Per The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, “Colts continue to make progress on extensions for two players, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith.” Keefer also added that Colts owner Jim Irsay said to him Wednesday that, “finding that sweet spot that’s fair to both sides,” and that the goal is to have both deals done before Week 1.
Colts continue to make progress on extensions for two key players, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith, but still details to work out, owner Jim Irsay told me today. Vital will be "finding that sweet spot that's fair to both sides," he said. Goal is to have both done before Week 1.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) June 9, 2021
If I were to guess, I’d say the Colts get both extensions done well before then. It’s quite clear that GM Chris Ballard doesn’t intend on letting either superstar have even the slightest chance of hitting free agency, which comes as no surprise.
Both players have far exceeded expectations since arriving in 2018. It wouldn’t shock me to see the pair reset the market for their respective positions. The numbers speak for themselves, and, although some may disagree, an argument can be made for both Leonard and Smith being the best at their positions.
Leonard has been named All-Pro in each of his first three seasons, which is the most in team history. Additionally, according to profootballreference.com, in that same span of time, the stud linebacker has amassed 416 combined tackles (268 solo), 26 tackles for loss, 15 sacks 7 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles.
Not only has Leonard put up historical numbers over the last three seasons, but the fashion and timing of his turnovers has been exceptional as well. For reference, all three of Leonard’s forced fumbles last season came at a crucial time in each of those games.
His first came against Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions. The Lions started to gain a little momentum and were inside Indianapolis territory, but Leonard stripped Stafford, allowing the Colts extend their lead from 20-14 to 27-14 on the ensuing drive.
The second fumble came against division rival Houston, where Leonard punched the ball away from Texans’ wide receiver Keke Coutee, who likely would’ve given Houston the go-ahead, game-winning touchdown. The Colts recovered the forced fumble, sealing the victory. Lastly, Leonard’s third forced fumble came against the Jaguars in Week 17, setting up the Colts’ offense inside Jacksonville territory and allowing them to cash in the turnover for a touchdown.
One word comes to mind when I think of Darius Leonard: Clutch!
Let’s shift to Smith, the other player who should’ve been an All-Pro for his performance last season. The right tackle may fly under the radar now, but once Smith signs his lengthy contract extension, the rest of the NFL will know just how much of a star he is.
In 531 pass-blocking snaps last season, Smith didn’t allow a single sack. That’s a tough task for any tackle in today’s pass-heavy NFL. And when you consider the level of competition Smith faced last season — (J.J. Watt, Matthew Judon, Josh Allen, Khalil Mack and others), that milestone is even more impressive.
With the amount of young and up-and-coming pass rushers in the NFL today — like Bud Dupree, Josh Allen, Shaq Barrett and others, locking Smith up long-term is going to make things easier when facing some of them.
I’m not exactly sure what the extensions will look like, as that is not my expertise. But whatever Indy decides to pay Leonard and Smith, they’re worth every single penny.