The Philadelphia Eagles have made a big splash in the free-agent market by signing linebacker Shaq Leonard, who was released by the Indianapolis Colts last month. Leonard, a four-time All-Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to bring a new level of playmaking and leadership to the Eagles’ defense, which has struggled at times throughout this season.
Leonard, who cleared waivers on November 22, had multiple suitors, including the Dallas Cowboys, who are the Eagles’ biggest rivals and just a game behind Philadelphia. However, Leonard chose to join the Eagles, citing his relationship with head coach Nick Sirianni, who was a coordinator when they were together in Indianapolis, as a major factor in his decision.
“I’m excited to be here and to reunite with Coach Sirianni,” Leonard said in his introductory press conference. “He’s a great coach and a great person, and he knows how to get the best out of his players. I also love the culture and the energy that the Eagles have. They’re a championship-caliber team, and I want to help them get back to the Super Bowl.”
Leonard, who is 28 years old, has been one of the most productive and versatile linebackers in the NFL since entering the league in 2018 as a second-round pick out of South Carolina State. He has recorded 614 tackles, 15 sacks, 12 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries in his career, earning three first-team All-Pro selections and one second-team All-Pro nod. He also won the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018.
Leonard’s arrival is a huge boost for the Eagles’ defense, which ranks 23rd in the league in points allowed per game (24) and 29th in the league in pass yards per game allowed (260) through 12 games. The Eagles have also been plagued by injuries at the linebacker position and throughout the defense. Veteran Zach Cunningham missed the last game with a hamstring issue. Additionally, Philadelphia lost several of their starting linebackers from last year's Super Bowl team to free agency this past offseason.
Leonard is expected to step in as the starting middle linebacker and the defensive signal-caller for the Eagles, replacing Cunningham, who could move to the weak side when he returns. Leonard’s speed, instincts, and coverage skills will allow him to make plays all over the field, while his physicality, toughness, and passion will set the tone for the rest of the defense.
“Shaq is a game-changer,” Sirianni said. “He’s a high-level player who can do it all. He can stop the run, rush the passer, cover the tight ends and the running backs, and create turnovers. He’s also a great leader who brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the locker room. He’s exactly what we need on our defense.”
Leonard will make his Eagles debut on Sunday night, when they travel to face the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, who are in second place in the NFC East and have one of the most potent offenses in the league. Leonard said he is ready to face the challenge and to prove himself to his new team and fans.
“I’m here to win,” Leonard said. “I’m here to make a difference. I’m here to make the Eagles better. I can’t wait to get on the field and show everyone what I can do.”