Shaquille Leonard came to Indianapolis with decent expectations as a second-round pick, but few could have imagined he'd reach his current status so quickly.
Two-time Pro Bowler. Three-time All-Pro, including two first-team selections. AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. And undoubtedly one of Indianapolis' two most important defenders.
Seems like the kind of player whose services the Colts would like to secure for the foreseeable future, right? Leonard believes so, even if a deal hasn't yet been struck.
"They take value in me," Leonard said Tuesday. "Hopefully, that will show. I think 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 that field I give everything I got, and they know that. Hopefully, we get everything settled and hopefully we're good to go."
Leonard's body of work, as he said, speaks for itself. There shouldn't be any convincing needed to sell the Colts on keeping him in Indianapolis on a lucrative contract.
As the current linebacker market stands, Leonard would likely be in line for a new league high in annual average salary. Seattle's Bobby Wagner currently holds that mantle at $18 million per year, making a $20 million per-year deal for Leonard realistic. With Leonard at just 25-years-old and with $79 million in projected space for the Colts in 2022, per Over The Cap, there doesn't appear to be many hurdles in the way of getting such a deal done.
Then again, Leonard doesn't play the same linebacker position as someone like Wagner. He's not the quarterback of the defense that Wagner is, and while he's an impact player, the nature of his position doesn't necessarily call for as large of a contract.
That could create a bit of a kink in negotiations, whenever those take place. As a second-round pick, Leonard's current contract does not include a fifth-year option that is standard for a first-rounder, meaning Indianapolis has less security. The franchise tag remains as a fallback option, but ideally, the Colts don't end up resorting to it to keep Leonard in Indianapolis.
As he said, the Colts value Leonard. They don't have a ton of money allocated to defenders outside of defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, either. It seems it's just a matter of making an effort to keep Leonard -- and to finding common ground on how much he's worth.