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Ex-Colts LB Shaquille Leonard 'waiting on that opportunity' to play in 2024, but at peace with career

Two offseasons ago, Shaquille Leonard was coming off an extraordinary four-year start to his career.

The former Colts linebacker was named AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the league in tackles in 2018, had earned three Pro Bowl nods and first-team All-Pro selections and had inked a $99.25 million extension with Indianapolis in 2021, making him the league's top-paid linebacker and setting up him, in theory, for the next six years.

But cut to the 2024 offseason, and Leonard is without a team, his career sidetracked by injury and average play.

Speaking at an event for his Maniac Foundation outside of Indianapolis on Saturday, Leonard, who played half of the 2023 season for the Eagles after a midseason Indy release, said while he's still looking for a squad to sign with ahead of his seventh NFL season, he's at peace with his career if this is it.

"I'm more so just sitting back, getting the body healthy, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, we'll give it a try," Leonard told the Indianapolis Star's Kyle Smedley. "I just continue to be me by working hard.

"If it happens, it happens. If it don't, it don't. I think throughout my career I've had a great career, even if I do step away from it. ... I'm enjoying life and just waiting on that opportunity."

After his 2022 season was derailed by a concussion, a broken nose and recurring back issues, Leonard returned to the Colts in 2023 looking for a bounce-back season. Instead, Indy cut the veteran after nine starts, sending the former face of its franchise to waivers where the then-defending NFC champion Eagles claimed him. Leonard played in five games for Philadelphia, logging 23 tackles and one sack. He was inactive for Philly's wild-card loss to Tampa Bay.

Now, with training camp a month away, Leonard, who turns 29 next month, is considering his future. If this is it for the veteran linebacker, he'll leave the league with an impressive, if brief résumé: 637 tackles, 31 passes defensed, 17 forced fumbles, 16 sacks and 12 interceptions in 75 regular-season games played.

But what Leonard will take most from his time in professional football (if that's all there is) are the relationships he built in Indy and with the Colts, who, despite his November release, still embrace him.

"You're blessed to be able to treat people with respect," Leonard said. "I feel like I carried myself in the right way. I respect them and their decision to walk away from me. It doesn't take away from our relationship as people. It's just a blessing to know that they're in my corner and they're always gonna be there if I need them.

"Indianapolis gave me so much. For six and a half years, it's been my home. I just want to give back as much as I possibly can to a town that means so much to me."

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