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Falcons Could Outbid Competition For 3-Time All-Pro

Shaquille Leonard has dropped off a bit in recent years, but the three-time All-Pro is a great low-risk, high-reward free agent.
Shaquille Leonard Free Agent

The past few seasons have not been kind to free agent linebacker Shaquille Leonard. Once viewed as one of the best linebackers in the world, the three-time All-Pro currently doesn’t have a job but could be a smart low-risk, high-reward signing.

After a back injury limited him to just three games in 2022, the former second-round pick received a reduced role early in 2023. The Colts waived Shaquille Leonard midway through the season, giving him the chance to sign with the Eagles as a free agent. Unfortunately, he didn’t play all that well in Philadelphia as the team collapsed down the stretch.

Perhaps Shaquille Leonard will never return to form following his back injury, but the free agent wasn’t an active liability last year. His 62.8 PFF grade made him the 53rd-best linebacker out of 82 eligible players, and Bleacher Report believes the Falcons should take a gamble on him bouncing back in 2023.

Linebacker Shaquille Leonard, for example, was released by the Indianapolis Colts in-season and failed to impress after latching on with Philadelphia. A return to form would give a big boost to Atlanta’s 20th-ranked run defense.

Falcons Connected To Free Agent Shaquille Leonard

The Falcons make perfect sense for Shaquille Leonard as a free agent. After giving a four-year deal to Kirk Cousins, Atlanta believes they now have what it takes to compete. While the offense should be strong, the defense could use some work. Despite heavy investments in the NFL Draft, Atlanta still has a below-average defense and could use a veteran like Leonard to add some experience to the defense.

Based on the relative lack of interest in the free agent, NFL teams appear to believe that Shaquille Leonard no longer has game-changing potential. With that disclaimer out of the way, the Falcons shouldn’t be the only teams interested in his services. Leonard probably won’t get a big contract in free agency, and the following five teams should consider taking a low-risk flier on the veteran.

Other Possible Fits

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have one of the best rosters in football. C.J. Stroud is a franchise quarterback, the weapons and offensive line are all well above-average and the defensive line features multiple players capable of getting after the quarterback. However, they could use some more help at linebacker. Azeez Al-Shaair was a smart signing, but the Texans should consider a low-risk, high-reward signing like Shaquille Leonard. If it doesn’t work out, Houston can move on with minimal financial damage. However, if they get lucky, they could have one of the best linebacker duos in football.

Los Angeles Chargers

Jim Harbaugh wants to win with the run game and strong defense, and Shaquille Leonard can help accomplish that goal as a free agent. At his best, Leonard was a tackling machine who excelled at shutting down opposing run games. Maybe that player doesn’t exist anymore, but the Chargers might as well roll the dice and see if the three-time All-Pro has anything left.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had to watch multiple star players depart in free agency, including former first-round pick Patrick Queen. Roquan Smith is still the heart of the defense, but Baltimore could use a cost-controlled free agent like Shaquille Leonard to pair with the two-time All-Pro. The Ravens excel at bringing the best out of their players, and Leonard could be their next great redemption product.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Devin White and Shaquille Leonard have remarkably similar stories. Both players used to be featured parts of their defense before receiving reduced roles and eventually joined the Eagles. Lavonte David is as good as ever, but he’s not getting any younger. Leonard can spend the season as the third linebacker and, if he finds his old form, could be the long-term answer at the position.

Carolina Panthers

Even though the Panthers are in a rebuild, they should be interested in a relatively older free agent like Shaquille Leonard. The team watched as Frankie Luvu departed for greener pastures, and while Josey Jewell will help replace his production, they should still consider bringing in Leonard. Even with the offensive additions, this team will still need to win games with defense, and Leonard could help accomplish that goal.

Main Photo: Vincent Carchietta – USA Today Sports


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