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Eagles sign former Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard to 1-year deal

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard warms up before practice at NFL team's football training camp in Westfield, Ind., on July 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles signed three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard to a contract on Monday for the rest of the season.

Leonard should be available to play for the defending NFC champion Eagles (10-2) on Sunday night against Dallas. Leonard visited with both the Eagles and Cowboys after the Colts waived him late last month.

He complained publicly about decreased playing time this season with the Colts. He could make an immediate impact for an Eagles team trying to get back to the Super Bowl.

Leonard has been slowed by injuries, but should help an Eagles defense that has struggled each of the past two weeks, including a blowout loss Sunday to San Francisco. The 49ers scored touchdowns on six straight possessions and the Bills had more than 500 yards in Philadelphia’s win in Week 12.

Indianapolis took Leonard with the 36th overall draft pick in 2018. Leonard led the league with a franchise-record 163 tackles. He won the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2018.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator when Leonard played for the Colts.

“He had a knack for the football and how to get the football,” Sirianni said. “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.”

Leonard joined left guard Quenton Nelson as the first rookie teammates to be selected first team All-Pros since Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers (Bears) in 1965.

It was only the start.

Leonard made three All-Pro teams and three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons, becoming one of the league’s most feared defenders.

He was rewarded in 2021 with a five-year contract extension worth $99.25 million, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid off-the-ball linebacker. He was best known for his ability to chase down opponents and his penchant for creating turnovers.

But even though he appeared to be his usual self in 2021, leading the league in forced fumbles (eight), he was hurting. Leonard played through significant leg pain, which was later determined to be a nerve injury that required back surgery before the 2022 season.

Leonard missed Indy’s first three games and in his season debut, he suffered a concussion and a fractured nose in a violent collision with teammate Zaire Franklin. Leonard missed three more games, returned for two more and then had season-ending back surgery to again repair the nerve.

Later, he admitted he came back too soon, so Indy played it safe this season.

Leonard had 614 tackles, 32 for loss, 31 passes defensed, 17 forced fumbles, 15 sacks, 12 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and one touchdown in 5 1/2 seasons with the Colts. This year, he had 65 tackles in nine games but no sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.

Leonard won Indy’s Ed Block Courage Award last year, was the team’s 2022 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and the South Carolina State alum was an avid supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), too.

“He was a great teammate and I really enjoyed being around him,” Sirianni said. “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.”