The Indianapolis Colts had the cornerstone of their defense and unspoken leader of the franchise in place for years to come. The All-Pro linebacker, Shaquille Leonard, signed a five year extension with the team that would run through the 2026 season. The “Maniac” was here to stay.
Fast-forward two years into that deal and Leonard may not even be in the league come next year. The star of the Colts defense has been wrecked by injuries over the last two years that have left him looking nothing like the man we saw running sideline to sideline in Lucas Oil the first four years of his career. From Defensive Rookie of the Year to annual Pro-Bowl and All-Pro selection, Leonard had it all going for him. His ability to force turnovers and create havoc on opposing offenses was truly a thing of beauty. He was a tackling machine that seemed to be in on every single play near the line of scrimmage. He quickly, and reasonably so, became a fan favorite.
That is why it has been so disheartening to see him decline so rapidly. Injuries are cruel. They take greatness and reduce it to nothingness in the blink of an eye. When my back goes out, I can barely get into my car let alone tackle 230 pound running backs. The nerve issues in his back have seemingly cleared, but the scars are more than physical now. They have left Leonard unable to move as he once could, looking stiff and feeling uncomfortable. Nothing is fluid. Navigating the field appears to be a complete struggle.
The Colts made the right move to release him, although it was met with mixed reviews. As I watched the early part of this season, there were plenty of instances in which I was unaware if he was even on the field. I got incredibly used to his name being one of the only names I consistently heard on the telecast, that to not hear his name or feel his impact became eerie. The final nail was the Eagles playoff game in which he did not see the field. Not for a snap. Essentially, being a healthy scratch is a horrible sign for one’s playing days.
For Leonard’s sake, I hope he can continue his career. He seems like a great guy who caught a bad break. If I had to make a bet, however, the only way I could see him coming back is if pride/denial got in the way. It must be hard to fall from grace like he did due to circumstances outside of his control. Whenever he hangs them up, he will always hold a special place here as Indy’s “Maniac”.