The Patriots have far more problems on offense than defense. But if they’re looking to give the latter a boost, an intriguing option just hit the market.

The Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday released veteran linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who until recently was regarded as arguably the NFL’s best player at his position.

Leonard was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Pro in 2018. He made the Pro Bowl in each of the next three seasons while also snagging two more first-team All-Pro nods (2020 and ’21), plus a second-team selection (2019). He’s also been a team captain in five of his six pro seasons.

The 28-year-old missed all but three games during the 2022 campaign, however, as he underwent multiple back surgeries. And though Leonard has been healthy enough to play in all but one of Indy’s 10 games so far this season, his role has been drastically reduced.

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Leonard started in all nine of his appearances but played just 70% of defensive snaps when active, way down from his 98% mark in ’21. He entered Week 12 as Pro Football Focus’s 62nd-highest-graded linebacker out of 81 qualifiers.

“I’m thankful for the energy Shaq brought to our team on a daily basis,” Colts head coach Shane Steichen said in a statement. “He’s a competitor, a leader, and is respected among his teammates. I wish him all the best.”

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Because of the timing of his release, Leonard will be subject to waivers. Any team that claimed him would assume his Colts contract, which runs through 2026 and features salary cap hits above $16 million in each of the next three seasons. That deal reportedly does not include any guaranteed money beyond this season outside of injury guarantees.

The last-place Patriots aren’t in the market for a rental, so claiming Leonard and taking on that hefty contract wouldn’t make much sense.

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If unclaimed, Leonard would become an unrestricted free agent and would be free to sign with any club. Would he be a worthwhile Patriots target in that scenario?

As always, it depends on the price. It wouldn’t make sense for New England to shell out real money for an off-the-ball linebacker given their myriad holes on the other side of the ball, especially since they’re already reasonably well-stocked there with Jahlani Tavai and Ja’Whaun Bentley signed through 2024 and ’25, respectively.

But Bill Belichick has praised Leonard in the past. Just last season, the Patriots head coach said Leonard “for sure” was able to diagnose New England’s offensive plays before the snap during a November matchup at Gillette Stadium.

“I thought that there were two or three plays for sure that Leonard really got a big jump on and stopped us, basically, on those plays,” Belichick said at the time. “… I thought definitely Leonard for sure did it, and I thought (Jets linebacker C.J.) Mosley had a couple plays like that, as well. But that’s what good defensive players do.”

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Leonard will look to prove for his next team that he still is a good player. If his market proves to be soft, he could be an intriguing flier for New England. But only at a discount.

Featured image via Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images