INDIANAPOLIS — As one of the team’s all-time greats was being enshrined into the Hall of Fame, the Indianapolis Colts were working to ensure one of the best on their current roster sticks around for a while.
The Colts have signed All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard to a contract extension. The team made the news official Sunday morning.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports the deal is for five years and $99.25 million with $52.5 million in guaranteed money. Leonard’s new contract makes him the NFL’s highest paid off-ball linebacker.
“I’m a competitor,” Leonard said after camp on Sunday. “If you aren’t first, you’re last. Just to have my name right now at the top, that’s something I don’t take for granted. I have to continue to go out and prove that I can play. That’s the mindset.”
Rapoport tweeted negotiations stalled for a couple weeks, but came together as the enshrinement ceremony for Edgerrin James and the class of 2020 started in Canton on Saturday night.
The Colts selected Leonard in the second round with the 36th overall pick in the 2018 draft out of tiny South Carolina State.
Critics panned the pick as “a reach,” but he responded with a sensational first season, leading the league in tackles (163), earning first team All-Pro honors and winning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“I was just thinking about all the things that I’ve been through in life, all the ups and downs that I’ve had to go through and all the doubters I had to go through,” said Leonard. “A lot of people, they still have their downside about what I do for a living and I know I just have to continue to come out and continue to prove them wrong.”
Leonard was named second team All-Pro in his second season and got for his first Pro Bowl nod. He added another first team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in his third season.
He’s the only NFL player to record 300 total tackles in his first 30 career games and the first to have at least 10 sacks and five interceptions in his first 25 games since 1982.
“Yes, I got paid, but I got paid for what I did three years recently so now I have to continue to show that I can be a great linebacker,” Leonard said. “I have to continue to prove it each Sunday.”
Leonard has missed the first two weeks of training camp after having an ankle procedure in early June, but he hopes to be back next week.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’ve been running off to the side, trying to make sure everything is pretty good.
“Hopefully, next week we can get things rolling,” said Leonard.
This is the second big extension general manager Chris Ballard has finalized this camp after signing right tackle Braden Smith to a $72.2 million dollar deal the first day of practice.
“Getting these early extensions done are not always easy, but we’ll continue to work through it,” Ballard said the day before the team reported to Westfield. “We want to take care of our players. We’ll see if we can come to a common agreement.”
You can follow the Colts Blue Zone on Twitter at @ColtsBluezone.