LB Shaquille Leonard joins Eagles over Cowboys

ByTim McManus ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Some much-needed linebacker relief is on its way, as the Philadelphia Eagles agreed to terms on a one-year deal with veteran Shaquille Leonard on Monday.

Leonard was deciding between signing with the Eagles or theDallas Cowboys. Those two teams play each other Sunday night in a pivotal NFC East matchup.

"He wanted to go where he thought he had the best chance. Again, certainly recognize and honor his decision there. It never was a decision for us in the confidence we've got in our linebackers," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

The Eagles have also inquired on tight end Zach Ertz, who played for the team 2013-21, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. Ertz, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals last week, is still evaluating his options as of Monday afternoon, the source told Fowler. Eagles starting tight end Dallas Goedert has been sidelined since fracturing his forearm in Week 9.

The Eagles have received inconsistent play from the linebacker position for much of the season, due in part to injury. They were down starters Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and the middle of the defense struggled mightily in a lopsided 42-19 loss.

Linebackers Nicholas Morrow and Christian Elliss were each targeted a team-high four times, per Next Gen Stats data, yielding five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Philadelphia is hopeful Cunningham (hamstring) will be back in action soon, and Dean (Lisfranc) is eligible to come off injured reserve for the Seattle Seahawks game Dec. 18. Either way, a boost at the position will be welcome.

Leonard was released by the Indianapolis Colts in late November.He had two back surgeries last season to address nerve issues that were impacting his lower body and limiting his explosiveness. His playing time had been inconsistent during his recovery, but coaches told him they would continue to revisit the issue as the season progressed.

But after some underwhelming play, Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley told Leonard he was going to be inactive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 26. That status was likely to stick for the rest of the season, a source told ESPN's Stephen Holder.

Leonard, 28, had spoken with reporters on multiple occasions before his release about his displeasure with his playing time.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was Indianapolis' offensive coordinator when Leonard played for the Colts.

"He had a knack for the football and how to get the football," Sirianni said Monday. "What I remember is just how, as an offensive coordinator, how hard he was to throw around. His length was comparable to Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone at Syracuse. He's going to make a play in the passing lane."

Leonard, a 2018 second-round pick out of South Carolina State and Defensive Rookie of the Year, was a first-team All-Pro in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

Leonard has posted 614 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and 17 forced fumbles since coming into the league.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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