INDIANAPOLIS – There seems to be little standing in the way of Darius Leonard becoming one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive players.
Expect, of course, determining the magnitude of the extension Leonard and the Indianapolis Colts anticipate occurring in the coming months.
“They take value in me and hopefully that’ll show,’’ Leonard said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “I think that I put in enough work the past three years. I give it my all day-in and day-out, never miss a day. Once I step on the field, I give everything I’ve got and they know that.
“Hopefully we get everything settled and hopefully we’ll be good to go.’’
Leonard is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, and due a $3.38 million base salary. An extension could make him the highest-paid non-edge rushing linebacker in league history.
The starting point in negotiations probably is the three-year, $54 million extension ($18 million per season) Seattle gave to Bobby Wagner in July 2019 that included $40 million in guarantees. Or the five-year, $85 million contract ($17 million average) the New York Jets gave to free agent C.J. Mosley in March 2019.
The question isn’t if the Colts are going to offer an extension to their defensive cornerstone. It’s when. And that most assuredly is this offseason.
Owner Jim Irsay addressed that topic during last month’s NFL Draft. He said he was optimistic extensions would be forthcoming for Leonard and right tackle Braden Smith.
“It’s just a question of finding numbers with each extension that makes sense,’’ Irsay said. “I really feel that we should be able to get it done. We understand where the market is and we’re willing to pay what we feel is market value to get these deals done.
“I’m planning on the fact that we’ll be getting them done.’’
Meanwhile, Leonard is heading into his fourth season with the Colts and eager to build on an already-impressive resume. He’s the 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, been named first-team All-Pro twice and second-team once, and selected to two Pro Bowls. His busy stat line compiled over 42 games includes 416 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, seven interceptions and nine forced fumbles.
“Just getting better,’’ Leonard said when asked about the next phase to his career. “Watching all the bad tape, seeing how teams are trying to attack you. Just learning the defense to a whole other level and just being that leader, that leader that everybody needs. Now that Anthony Walker is gone, you need that person to take in that leadership role and say, ‘OK, this is what you have to do. This is the way that it has to be.’
“Just continue to be me. I don’t think I’ve got to change much. I’ve just got to go out each day and work, day-in and day-out, bring the energy, day-in and day-out, and let the rookies and everybody else know this is the standard and this is how it’s supposed to be.’’
Leonard’s normal workout regimen involves an early start each day.
“I’m up and at it at 5, man,’’ he said. “You know me, I wake up about 4:30, 4:45. I’m getting it in. I’m done probably around 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock and I’m back home with my family.
“I always say I like to eat while everybody’s sleeping, then you never have to share what’s on your plate. I just like to get work in. I like to just be alone. When I’m in there in the morning, I don’t talk. It’s just me and my trainers and we’re just working day-in and day-out.’’
Leonard has been working out at Yo Murphy’s Performance in Tampa, Fla. Recently those workouts included DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy-winning receiver out of Alabama who was selected 10th overall by Philadelphia.
“He had that same mentality,’’ Leonard said. “He wanted to work. Just having the Heisman Trophy winner in there . . . I know I wasn’t a Heisman Trophy winner, but you have to have that mindset. He’s got that winner’s mindset.
“It was good to see some young talent come in there and push me and say, ‘OK, this is the young talent coming in.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.