The Dallas Cowboys had a great visit with Shaquille Leonard last week, but the veteran linebacker left without signing a contract.
Sure enough, Leonard took a visit with the Philadelphia Eagles the very next day, and it was reported thereafter that he would take a week to consider both options before informing the masses of his decision. This is a big decision for Leonard, who spent the first five-plus seasons of his career with the Colts, even if his contract only runs for the rest of the season, so you can understand his patience.
Through no fault of their own, the Cowboys came up short in the Leonard sweepstakes. It was reported Monday that he'll sign with the Eagles.
Fans will be disappointed for obvious reasons. On paper, Dallas is thin at linebacker behind Damone Clark and Markquese Bell, the latter of whom suffered an injury scare on Thanksgiving. That said, there's no reason to panic or throw a fit that Leonard picked the hated Eagles.
No, we're not "coping." These reasons are valid.
2. The playoff-bound Colts are paying Leonard not to play for them
Leonard's benching can be attributed to multiple factors. None are bigger than his plummeted effectiveness, however. Whether his multiple back/neck procedures hindered his athleticism Leonard was vastly outplayed by Colts teammates Zaire Franklin and E.J. Speed, former seventh- and fifth-round picks, respectively.
This season, Leonard owns a 60.3 player grade, via Pro Football Focus. His 8.7% missed tackle percentage is a career-high (six missed tackles in nine games) and he allowed 17 catches on 22 targets in coverage for 158 yards (118 after the catch) to go with a 96.4 passer rating allowed.
One highlight this season underlined Leonard's fall from grace. Against the Patriots, he missed an open-field tackle against Ezekiel Elliott (!). Think about how rare it was in 2022 that Elliott made a defender miss in the open field.
Could the Cowboys have used Leonard? No doubt, but let's not pretend he would have transformed the LB room. The fact he was benched on the Colts' talent-starved defense shows he's a shell of his former All-Pro self.
1. It proves the Eagles are more desperate
Playing time and role was going to have major influence in Leonard's decision. By choosing the Eagles over Dallas, Leonard is going to the team that can allow him the most opportunities. If you were a free agent LB and watched Philly get smacked around by the 49ers on Sunday, you would have chosen the Eagles, too.
Don't deny it. Leonard likely watched that game and determined he could have a bigger impact on the Eagles. Like the Cowboys, we don't think Leonard will transform Philly's LB room, but that loss proved the Eagles need Leonard more than he needs them.
Free agents want to feel wanted. While Jerry Jones likely made Leonard an awesome recruitment pitch, he could only do so much to persuade the 27-year-old to join Dallas. Can't you picture Eagles GM Howie Roseman blowing up Leonard's phone as the 49ers hung 42 points on his defense and devastated the middle of the field with Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey?
It's unfortunate that the Cowboys came up short and Leonard could even see the field in Sunday's rematch against the Eagles, but that doesn't mean he'll be a difference-maker. Philly is simply that desperate for LB help.
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