What happened to Shaquille Leonard? Why former Colts star is watching game from suite days after being released

One of the last people Colts fans expected to see in attendance for the Week 12 matchup against the Buccaneers was former linebacker Shaq Leonard, who was released from the team just days ago.

Then again, not everyone is the person that Leonard is. 

The former Indianapolis star was seen at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, cheering on the Colts from a suite with his family. When he was shown on the Jumbotron, the crowd erupted, giving the currently unemployed All-Pro a warm welcome back. 

MORE: NFL picks, predictions against the spread for Week 12

“The Maniac”, as he was known to the Indy faithful, played in nine games with the Colts this season. His numbers were not great, as he had no sacks and 65 tackles, and he had been vocal throughout the season about his decreased role. 

While the end of Leonard’s career in Indianapolis was disappointing, he was a bright spot with the organization for a number of years prior. A second-round pick in 2018, Leonard on the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award after leading the league in total tackles (163) and solo tackles (111). He earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2019 to 2021, and was named to three NFL All-Pro first teams. 

What happened to Shaq Leonard?

Leonard was released by the Colts on Nov. 21, which came after the team’s bye week. He posted a thank you letter to Colts fans on X, formerly Twitter, announcing the news. 

“Indy, I want to thank you for accepting me and my family with open arms,” Leonard said in the statement. “These past 6 years has been nothing but incredible! Through the good times and bad time y’all stood by my side. I apologize for not bringing that trophy back to the 317. The energy in Lucas Oil has been nothing but amazing and I thank you for every memory. I’m thankful to play for such an amazing fan base. I love you guys and wish the Colts nothing but the best!

“Maniac out.”

Leonard’s playing time was on the decline as the season went on. While he said at times that he was willing to be the backup to the emerging E.J. Speed, his body language on the field told another story. It came to a boil two weeks ago when he voiced his frustrations about his role with the defense publicly.

Colts head coach Shane Steichen was asked whether Leonard’s comments has any impact on the team’s decision to cut him. He said that “everything is case by case,” neither confirming nor denying that was the reason for Leonard’s release. The linebacker said that he asked the coaching staff the same thing. 

“I asked the same question: What transpired from two weeks ago to now to make it seem like they don’t want me in the building?” Leonard said. “I don’t know, man. It just sucks. I feel like I did everything in my will to be a great Colt and a great teammate. What I’ve done, it just hurts the way I was pushed out the door.”

Despite the news that he would be no longer with the team, that didn’t stop Leonard from being himself. The very same day he was released, Leonard was passing out turkeys in Indianapolis at his annual Thanksgiving charity event, giving back to the same community that embraced him.  

Leonard did use his public forum to speak about the release, stating that he felt like he gave the Colts “everything.”

“I felt like I was thrown out the door, man,” Leonard said. “I gave this organization everything that I had, even when I didn’t really have it. I gave them everything.”

While it’s clear that Leonard the player had issues with his release, Leonard the human was not going to let that get in the way of him being himself. During his charity event, he discussed facing the adversity head-on, and further exemplified that mindset with his surprise appearance in Indianapolis. 

“Through the tough times, the good times, no matter what it is, my heart has always been big, no matter the circumstances,” Leonard said. “A lot of people can go hide in the closet. Me, I’m gonna stand on the front porch and just be me. That’s one thing I’m gonna do no matter what — hold my head up high to the finish.”

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