Should the Bears go after Shaquille Leonard?
Jenna Watson - USA Today Sports

Should the Bears go after Shaquille Leonard?

by - Senior Writer -

Every NFL season, there are moves being made that cause you to scratch your head, and the Indianapolis Colts just made one of those moves. Despite sitting at .500 and still being in the hunt for an AFC Wild Card, Jim Irsay and the Colts made a puzzling decision by cutting Pro Bowl LB Shaq Leonard.

To say this was unexpected would be an understatement as Leonard has been one of the better LBs for quite some time. Known as Darius Leonard for the longest time, he recently changed his name to Shaq and has gone by that name ever since. As you may recall, Leonard is a three-time pro bowler, three-time all-pro, and even took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2018. He has had one heck of a career in seven seasons, and there is no reason to believe it will stop here.

From the moment he was drafted and stepped on an NFL field, Leonard would be a household name in the NFL as he started his career with a bang. The South Carolina State product led the NFL in total and solo tackles as a rookie in 2018, earning him first-team All-Pro honors as a first-year player. He followed that up with three consecutive Pro Bowls and All-Pro nods in 2020 and 2021. That alone had in the conversation as the best LB in the game, and when you look at his numbers, you can see why.

However, the past two seasons have seen his play decline just enough that the Colts felt they could do better without him. He dealt with injuries in 2022, which forced him to miss a large chunk of the season. This season, Leonard came back healthy and was expecting to do big things, but for whatever reason, the results haven't been there, and he appears a step slower than before his injury. That may be a coincidence, but regardless the Colts took notice of that and have elected to cut him.

As the results continued to decline, Leonard started to see fewer snaps under the Gus Bradley defense and publicly said he wasn't happy with his recent snap count. This could be the result of that, as Leonard was released only a few weeks after complaining about his snap count, so you have to wonder if there was some bad blood starting to brew behind closed doors.

Considering the season is almost over, there may not be many teams open to adding him to their roster this season unless they are a guaranteed playoff team that needs LB help. Regarding the Bears, they may look to add Leonard next offseason to continue improving their defense. Leonard to the Bears does make some sense, especially when you look at Matt Eberflus as the head coach.

Eberflus was his defensive coordinator in Indianapolis during his impressive run and knows how to get the most out of him. However, given the uncertainty of this entire coaching staff going forward, Eberflus may not even be around next season, so the connection from that side of things may not make sense.

You then have to look at his contract numbers and ask yourself the honest question. Does it make sense for the Bears to sign him? Yes, the Bears will have a ton of funds again, and Leonard still has three years left that need to be accounted for. However, at $16. 1 million in 2024, $19 million in 2025, and $19.6 million in 2026. Should the Bears sign him, they must inherit the rest of that contract and pay him. That is a ton of money tied to player for just three years, especially one coming off an injury and having a down season.

One positive to take a look at when breaking down his contract is looking at his overall age. Leonard is still 28, so the Bears could sign him for an additional two years added to those three remaining years to even out the money a bit more. That would not only give Leonard more long-term financial security, but it could also help the Bears in terms of cap space later down the road. If the Bears are willing to take on the financial hit and are confident he can get back on track, this is a gamble well worth the risk.

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