The Indianapolis Colts released linebacker Shaq Leonard, to the surprise of many. Team owner Jim Irsay announced the news Tuesday afternoon, including the words "tough business" on his social media post.
General manager Chris Ballard was just as kind in his statement about Leonard's release.
"Shaq is the ultimate competitor and has been a fan favorite since he arrived as a rookie in 2018," Ballard said via the team website. "We are incredibly grateful for his contributions to the team and the city of Indianapolis over the last six seasons. We wish him the best and he will always be a valued member of the Horseshoe."
Leonard was drafted by the Colts in 2018 and has never played for another team. In five-plus seasons with Indy, he's racked up a healthy list of accolades. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro. He led the league in tackles in 2018 and was named the defensive Rookie of the Year. Three years later he led the NFL in forced fumbles.
But 2022 was a tough year for him. He didn't make his debut until Week 4 due to offseason back surgery, then sustained a concussion and a broken nose. Another back injury ended his season after just one start and three total games. Shane Steichen took over head coaching duties in the offseason, which led to less playing time for Leonard in 2023.
As Irsay said, it's a tough business.
Leonard, ever a class act, posted a lovely goodbye message to Colts fans on social media.
Indy, I thank you 💜 pic.twitter.com/VxMa1VU2IA
— Darius Shaquille Leonard (@dsleon45) November 21, 2023
Where will Leonard end up next? There are a lot of possibilities. Despite the drop in playing time this year, he's just 28 and could provide a lot of help to a defense in need of a boost. Plus, his salary for the rest of the year is just $6.11 million. Leonard is signed through 2026 and will be owed around $55 million combined over the next three seasons if a team picks him up off waivers.