The 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Leonard set the franchise’s single-season sack record that season. He earned three All-Pro nods in his first four years in the league as an instinctive tackler and second-level pass-rusher. He tallied 15.0 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in his first three seasons.
Leonard started 68 of the 70 games he appeared in across six seasons with the Colts. He left Indianapolis with 614 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits, 15 sacks, 17 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. He also recorded 31 pass breakups and 12 interceptions, including a pick-six in 2019.
The Athletic considered Leonard to be on a “Hall of Fame” trajectory before he underwent two back surgeries last season that limited him to just three games.
Since his return, Leonard has seen a diminished role on the Colts defense.
“It’s just different this year,” Leonard said earlier this month, per the IndyStar. “Either I’m hammering the ball back to Zaire or spilling it into the safety. I’m not as free as I once was in the defense before.”
The 28-year-old hasn’t been given the same opportunities his former defensive coordinator Matt Eberfleus once afforded him. According to Pro Football Focus, Leonard averaged 59.8 pass-rushing snaps a season through the 2021 season. Under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Leonard has rushed the passer just nine times across 454 defensive snaps.
Leonard’s frustration with his usage and playing time surfaced throughout the season, however, he appeared at a charity event just hours after his release from the team.
“At a charity event Tuesday, Leonard talked to the media. The linebacker said he met with the coaching staff Monday and was told he would be inactive going forward. The team waived him earlier Tuesday,” The Athletic’s James Boyd reported. “Leonard said he hasn’t considered retirement and wants to continue playing. He didn’t rule out the possibility of playing for another team this season.
Leonard would get plenty of pass-rushing reps in Brian Flores’ defense along with a fresh start with a Vikings organization that graded top of the league in the NFL Players Association poll this past summer.