INDIANAPOLIS – Shaquille Leonard had been asking for a November meeting with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to clarify his role over the final two months of what had been a frustrating season.
He got it Monday. And so much more.
“I guess you’ve got to be careful what you ask for,’’ Leonard said.
After the Indianapolis Colts convened Monday for their annual team picture, Bradley approached his dissatisfied starting linebacker.
Hey, let’s go have that November meeting you’ve been wanting.
“When I got there, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear,’’ Leonard told the media Tuesday evening at his annual Turkey Giveaway, which aided 200 local families.
Leonard had seen his playing time decrease and role altered in Bradley’s defense as he returned from a second surgery on his back to address disc/nerve issues.
Even though he started nine of 10 games – he missed the week 5 game against Tennessee with a groin injury – Leonard’s playing diminished as he split time with emerging E.J. Speed and routinely was taken off the field in third-down situations.
Two weeks ago as the team prepared for its meeting with New England in Germany, he seemed resigned to the fact that complementary role would continue for the remainder of the season.
“In my mind, I feel this is how it’s going to be,’’ Leonard said at the time. “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be frustrating. But it is what it is.’’
As it turns out, Leonard was being completely phased out.
During the Monday meeting, Bradley informed Leonard he would be inactive – a healthy scratch – Sunday when the Colts returned to action against Tampa Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“The first thing was ‘You are going to be inactive’,’’ Leonard said. “That’s kind of how it started. I told them a month ago, ‘Yes, I want to play. There’s no question I want to play.’ But I always told them if E.J.’s playing better than me, I have no problem with E.J. being the starter.
“I honestly thought if I wasn’t going to (start), I was going to be a backup. I did not think I was going to get the boot and get fired on my day off.’’
After being informed of his pending inactive status for the Buccaneers game, Leonard returned home.
Tuesday, he was informed he was being waived. The 2018 second-round pick whose gigantic mural is featured on the prominent façade at Lucas Oil Stadium no longer was a Colt.
A source with knowledge of the situation insisted it was a personnel decision, period. Leonard’s recent comments regarding his lack of playing time didn’t impact the move.
How big of a surprise was the news?
“It was the biggest surprise ever,’’ Leonard said. “But I don’t make those decisions. It was shocking. I asked for a November meeting. I guess I got a November meeting.
“I guess you’ve got to be careful what you ask for.’’
Leonard wondered if his recent comments desiring a more prominent role on defense influenced the decision.
“I always said they say it’s OK until you step on toes,’’ he said. “I said that two weeks ago and I still stand by that.
“I don’t know if it played a part. Do I think it plays somewhat a part into it? Yes, because they could see it as a distraction. But I tried to be as respectful that I was with my answer.’’
The prevailing question: What’s next for a 28-year-old linebacker whose six-year resume includes Defensive Rookie of the Year and four All-Pro selections, including three first-team nods?
If Leonard clears waivers, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. And that’s likely. A team claiming him assumes the final 3½ years of the five-year, $98 million extension Leonard signed in August 2021.
If he’s unclaimed, the Colts are responsible for the remaining $6.1 million of his $15.7 million base salary for 2023.
The bottom line: Leonard wants to play.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around getting cut,’’ he said. “So, trying to figure it out. If the opportunity presents itself . . . of course, I love playing ball. That’s what I do. I love to compete. I love to have fun.
“I don’t see myself giving up on football right now.’’
The more he talked about post-Colts, the more strident Leonard became.
“I want to play, man. I want to play football,’’ he said. “I don’t want to think about retirement for another couple of years.
“I just want to play no matter where it’s at. I want to be with a team that wants me for who I am. I want coaches that want me for who I am. . . . I’m confident in my ability. I always have been.’’
“Do I think I’m the same player I was in 2021? No, not right as of this moment. Am I still a good linebacker and could be a good linebacker in this NFL? Yes.’’
Leonard is motivated to prove the Colts were wrong in jettisoning him with seven games remaining.
“I want them to understand I can play ball, man,’’ he said. “I don’t like that I was thrown out the door. I gave them everything and I just want to prove that I can still play and they made the wrong decision.
Speed, who assisted Leonard at the Turkey Drive, is confident his now-former teammate has more to offer.
“The legacy of The Maniac (doesn’t) stop here,’’ he said. “Everybody knows that. . . . Anybody who has him in the locker room in the future will be lucky to have him and it’ll be a blessing for him the rest of his career.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.