Some help on the way to a position the Eagles really need.
The Eagles announced Monday that they will sign three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard to bolster what has been the weakest position on the roster.
Leonard, 28, may not be the player he once was during his time in Indianapolis, but the veteran should be able to help the Eagles’ defense the rest of the 2023 season. Leonard is the latest veteran addition this offseason, as He joins Kevin Byard, Bradley Roby and Julio Jones.
The Eagles started this season with Nakobi Dean and Zach Cunningham as their starters. But Dean missed most of the season and is on IR again after undergoing foot surgery. Cunningham suffered a hamstring injury against the Bills and missed the 49ers game. Against the 49ers, the Eagles started Nicolas Morrow and Christian Ellis and things didn’t go well. The 49ers attacked both early and often.
If it wasn’t clear before the 49ers game, it became clear during the 42-19 win: the Eagles need some outside help. Fortunately for them, Leonard decided to sign with the Eagles instead of the rival Dallas Cowboys.
The Eagles will play the North Texas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football this week.
After visiting the Cowboys earlier last week, Leonard visited the NovaCare complex on Wednesday. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni knows Leonard well from their days together in Indianapolis. Last Wednesday, Leonard met with Sirianni in the morning and met with some other coaches in the early afternoon.
What is Sirianni’s offer to Leonard?
“All I’m going to do is be honest with him and tell him the situation here, the situation in this building,” Sirianni said. “I think the stadium is just people who are in this building, and some of them have a prior relationship as well. I want Shaq to make the decision that’s best for him. Because, again, when there’s that prior relationship, you want to make sure — and that’s what I told him: ‘I want you Just make the decision that’s best for you.” Take all the information from both places and do what’s best for you.
“So, I’ve been calling him a lot in the last couple of days, and he’ll make the decision that’s best for him. I’m confident of that. He’s a good person.”
The Colts recently released Leonard after he fell down their pecking order. After he cleared waivers, he was free to sign with any team in the NFL. He eventually decided to join the Eagles.
Sirianni was the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis for the first three seasons of Leonard’s career. After Sirianni bombed his introductory news conference in Philadelphia in 2021, Leonard took to social media to defend him.
What does Sirianni remember about Leonard from their days together?
“Yes, he made a lot of plays, that’s for sure,” Sirianni said last week. “He had a knack for the football and how to get the ball. What I remember is how hard he was to throw the ball as an offensive coordinator. His height was similar to Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone at Syracuse. He would play in the passing lane.
“He was a great teammate and I really enjoyed being around him. I still have a relationship with him. I think he’s a great person and a great teammate and, as I said, the main thing is the ball and the length that comes to mind with that.”
From 2018 through 2021, Leonard was one of the best linebackers and overall defensive players in the NFL. During that four-year span, Leonard had 15 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, 31 pass breakups, 32 tackles for loss, and 343 solo tackles. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro during that span.
But Leonard was only able to play in three games in 2022 due to injury. Leonard had back surgery that season, suffered a concussion in the season opener and then injured his back again. In 2023, Leonard looked nothing like the All-Pro version and his playing time began to dwindle.
While it would be unfair to expect Leonard to return to his All-Pro peak, he should at least help at a position the Eagles desperately need.
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