Some help is on the way at a position where the Eagles really need it.
The Eagles on Monday announced they are signing three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard to bolster what was the weakest position on the roster.
Leonard, 28, might not be the player he once was during his prime in Indianapolis but the veteran should be able to help the Eagles’ defense the rest of the 2023 season. Leonard is just the latest veteran addition during this season, joining Kevin Byard, Bradley Roby and Julio Jones.
The Eagles began this season with Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham as their starting linebackers. But Dean has missed most of the season and is on IR again after undergoing foot surgery. And Cunningham suffered a hamstring injury against the Bills and missed the 49ers game. Against the 49ers, the Eagles started Nicholas Morrow and Christian Elliss and it did not go well. The 49ers attacked both of them early and often.
If it wasn’t clear before the 49ers game, it became clear during the 42-19 beatdown: The Eagles needed some outside help. Luckily for them, Leonard decided to sign with the Eagles instead of the rival Dallas Cowboys.
The Eagles will play the Cowboys in North Texas on Sunday Night Football this week.
After visiting the Cowboys earlier last week, Leonard visited the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. Eagles head 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 was Sirianni’s pitch to Leonard?
“All I’ll ever do is just be honest with him and tell him what the situation is here, what the situation is in this building,” Sirianni said. “I think the pitch is just the guys that we have in this building, and some of them he has a prior relationship, too. I want Shaq to make the decision that’s best for him. Because, again, when there is that prior relationship you want to make sure — and that’s what I said to him, ‘I just want you to make the best decision for you. Take all the information from both places and do what’s best for you.’
“So, I’ve called him a bunch the last couple days, and, shoot, he’ll make the decision that’s best for him. I’m confident in that. He’s a good person.”
Leonard was released by the Colts recently after he dropped in their pecking order. After he cleared waivers, he was free to sign with any team in the NFL. He ultimately decided to join the Eagles.
Sirianni was the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis for the first three seasons of Leonard’s career. And after Sirianni bombed his introductory press conference in Philly in 2021, Leonard took to social media to defend him.
What does Sirianni remember about Leonard from their days together?
“Yeah, 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 football. What I remember is just how, as an offensive coordinator, how hard he was to throw around. His length was comparable to Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone at Syracuse. He’s going to make a 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 is a great person, great teammate, and like I said, the main thing was the ball and the length that come 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 stretch.
But Leonard was able to play in just three games in 2022 because of injury. Leonard had back surgery that offseason, suffered a concussion in the season opener and then re-injured his back. In 2023, Leonard didn’t look like that All-Pro version and his play 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 where the Eagles desperately need it.
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