The Indianapolis Colts shocked the NFL world on Tuesday by announcing that three-time first-team All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard had been placed on waivers.
“Colts Nation will always remember The Maniac’s palpable energy on the field with each tackle, interception, punchout, and fumble recovery,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement, which he tweeted with the caption “Tough business.” “Off the field, he’s a servant leader and assisted numerous families in both his hometown and the Indianapolis community. We’re thankful for Shaq and the contributions he made to our organization. We wish him and his beautiful family the best moving forward.”
Leonard released his own statement, thanking Indianapolis for his time while representing the Colts and the city.
“Indy, I want to thank you for accepting me and my family with open arms,” his statement reads. “These past 6 years has been nothing but incredible! Through the good times and bad times y’all stood by my side. I apologize for not bringing that trophy back to the 317. The energy in Lucas Oil has been nothing but amazing and I thank you for every memory. I’m thankful to play for such an amazing fan base. I love you guys and wish the Colts nothing but the best!”
Leonard said this month that he was frustrated with his lack of playing time with the Colts, but the team expressed to him that his role wasn’t going to change.
Because of his inconsistent play when on the field, the Colts were taking Leonard off on third downs and even having him split snaps with E.J. Speed. It did not sit well with the fifth-year defensive captain.
“It sucked hearing that,” Leonard said earlier about splitting snaps. “You’re already not playing on third [down]; you’re taking the reps on second down, too? So, it’s very heartbreaking to get that, but it is what it is.”
His production hasn’t been the same since he underwent two back surgeries that were done to repair nerve damage. The 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year who amassed 121 tackles or more in his first four seasons has played just 12 games over the last two campaigns.
While he was signed through the 2026 season, Leonard had no guaranteed money left on his deal, and the Colts released him after six years with the franchise.
“Shaq is the ultimate competitor and has been a fan favorite since he arrived as a rookie in 2018,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said in a statement. “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 has been known for making game-changing plays on defense since he ran away with the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018 with 163 combined tackles, eight passes defended, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions.
His signature punch-out, which Irsay mentioned, was utilized at all times, especially in 2021 when he led the league with eight forced fumbles. But 2021 was the last season in which Leonard looked like himself.
The nerve issues took their toll in 2022 as he played just three games, starting one. He finished with 11 tackles, though he did have an interception.
Through nine games this season, Leonard has 65 tackles, two of which were for loss. He didn’t record a forced fumble, pass defended, interception or sack.
Now, the 28-year-old will look for his next opportunity with another franchise in the league, one that will hope he can get back to Pro Bowl form.