Just like last week, Shaq Leonard expressing frustration with scaled back role.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) November 9, 2023
Leonard got 39 snaps last week (2nd lowest of year), despite no Zaire Franklin.
Clear staff disagreement from Leonard, who doesn’t see role (splitting 1st & 2nd downs, no 3rd down) changing in '23. pic.twitter.com/6xk02ZNtiD
There clearly is some disconnect between how Leonard believes he’s capable of playing on passing downs compared to the Colts coaching staff, who appear convinced the now noticeably faster and more athletic E.J. Speed is the superior option.
To be fair, there’s stats out there that validate the Colts coaching staff’s opinion, as Speed has excelled as a subpackage linebacker in nickel situations so far this season.
It’s also a fair question of whether Leonard is as natural a fit at linebacker in this current Colts defensive scheme, as he’s not allowed to play as loose and flow to the football as he once did in departed defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’s ‘Cover 2’ scheme.
That being said, Leonard still offers value, as he just led the Colts in tackles this past Sunday, with 10 tackles (7 solo) last weekend. He’s shown some flashes of being ‘The Maniac,’ even if he hasn’t fully regained his prior physical form after two back surgeries.
Leonard’s comments come just a week after his head coach Shane Steichen labeled him ‘the ultimate competitor,’ but preferred to keep such publicly made playing time conversations between Leonard and the Colts coaching staff strictly in house.
Meaning, there’s definitely some tension and frustration building between Leonard and the Colts coaching staff—with no real end in sight at the midseason mark.
Earlier this season, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley indicated that the Colts were ramping up Leonard for a full workload to begin in November, but turkey month just began, and Leonard just played his second fewest snaps of the season.
While Leonard is trying to work his way back into his prior NFL All-Pro form, the Colts could eventually face a crossroads at season’s end regarding arguably the greatest linebacker in Indianapolis franchise history—with major salary cap implications in play.
Signed until 2027, Leonard is due a $20.124M cap hit in 2024, and the Colts could save roughly $12M by releasing the veteran linebacker this upcoming offseason.
It wouldn’t be an easy decision unceremoniously cutting a once beloved player, but it may be hard for the Colts to justify withstanding such a lofty salary cap hit for essentially a two-down linebacker.