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Steelers Pass on Top Free Agent LB Shaq Leonard Despite Injuries



Steelers Shaq Leonard

PITTSBURGH — Despite a third significant injury at the inside linebacker position in a matter of weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not significantly pursue free agent inside linebacker Shaq Leonard, who agreed to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.

The Steelers lost both starting inside linebackers Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb to season-ending injuries in Weeks 9 and 10. They were replaced by Elandon Roberts and former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker, who had been on the Steelers’ practice squad.

Then, Roberts went down in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, leaving just Walker and second-year linebacker Mark Robinson to man the ship.

The Steelers have made moves to shore up the position, signing Blake Martinez from the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad and bringing Myles Jack out of retirement.

“When you just look at the pool of of people available to us and just where we were, we value NFL experience, even if that NFL experience was not in a training camp (this year),” head coach Mike Tomlin said on Monday. 

But apparently, that philosophy did not extend to interest in the top available player at the position from around the league.

A second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Leonard was a four-time All-Pro selection in his time with the Colts. He led the NFL with 163 tackles as a rookie in 2018, winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and his first of four straight All-Pro nods.

His 2022 was marred by a back injury that kept him from playing in all but three games. He returned this season and had 65 tackles and two tackles for loss in nine games with the Colts this season.

Leonard struggled to regain his form after the injury, and didn’t seem to fit in with new Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. His playing time dropped to the lowest of his career and he became openly critical of Bradley. That and his large salary led to his release on Nov. 21.

Leonard cleared waivers, when all 31 NFL teams had a shot at him, and since then visited with the Dallas Cowboys and Eagles before settling on Philly.