All-Pro Shaq Leonard is on the move.
Leonard, a three-time First-Team All-Pro, was released by the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday afternoon and will now hit the waiver wire, where all 32 teams will have their chance to add him to their roster.
However, while Leonard is one of the most productive linebackers of his generation — producing 614 total tackles, 15 sacks, 32 tackles for loss, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions, and 31 pass breakups through his first 70 games, he has a hefty price tag.
If any team claims Leonard off waivers, they would be responsible for his remaining $6.1 million for the rest of 2023 seas.
But, while it may seem unlikely that Leonard is claimed, there are teams at the top of the waiver wire who could be great fits.
"If I had to guess," an AFC Scout told FanBuzz. "He's going to land with a team that likes smaller linebackers, and he's not going to be available for long."
Whether it is by being claimed off waivers, or signing as a free agent after passing through the waiver wire, here's a look at Leonard's five best fits:
The Carolina Panthers are paper-thin at linebacker, and Frank Reich coached Leonard during their time together in Indianapolis.
Not only did Carolina lose veteran Blake Martinez off the practice squad, signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Chandler Wooten was forced onto injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury. The one sticking point for a potential Reich-Leonard reunion is the fact that defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero runs a 3-4 that Leonard seemed miscast for in Indianapolis this season.
If Leonard makes it past the Panthers on the waiver wire, at least one personnel source believes the Bears would put in a claim. Similarly to Reich, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus coached Leonard with the Colts, before leaving to become the head coach in Chicago.
Chicago currently has just $5.16 million in cap space, so Bears general manager Ryan Poles would need to make a corresponding move to create the cap space necessary to absorb Leonard's deal. However, if Leonard wound up in the Windy City, he would add a strong veteran leadership voice to a young defense that Poles is building from the ground up. Chicago has shown a propensity to aggressively add veteran defenders, after trading a second-round pick in exchange for pass-rusher Montez Sweat at the deadline. Perhaps Leonard could be next.
Few teams, or general managers, are as bold and aggressive as Howie Roseman and the Eagles. If Leonard clears waivers, expect Roseman and the Eagles to be in the mix.
Just this season, Roseman acquired veteran safety Kevin Byard, in a trade with the Tennessee Titans, inked veteran wide receiver Julio Jones to a deal, and Philadelphia consistently seems to be in the mix whenever top talent becomes available. If the Eagles have one spot defensively where they are a bit banged up and a little thin, it would be at linebacker. Leonard has a reputation for being a magnet to the football, and could elevate Philadelphia's defense while adding another veteran voice to a largely youthful front-seven.
San Francisco 49ers
Another NFC contender that could make a strong push for Leonard, should he pass through the waiver wire, is the San Francisco 49ers.
Similarly to Roseman, general manager John Lynch is seemingly in on any big-name veteran player who becomes available. Just last month, at the NFL trade deadline, Lynch traded a third-round pick to the Commanders for pass-rusher Chase Young, despite already boasting a front-seven that includes Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead, and others. San Francisco wins by playing a bruising style of defense, and attacking the quarterback, which could make the 49ers an ideal destination. Maybe most importantly, the 49ers are flush with cash, boasting a league-high $39.4 million in cap space for the 2023 season.
If the Cleveland Browns are going to make it through an AFC postseason gauntlet that is bound to include explosive offenses such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore Ravens, Jim Schwartz's defense is going to need to have a vast collection of playmakers.
Leonard could walk into a starting role and make an immediate impact with the Browns. If Leonard isn't claimed, only San Francisco has more cap space than the Browns' current $33.3 million in spending flexibility.
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