Darius Leonard has been a tremendous find for the Indianapolis Colts after they plucked him out of the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Out of the gate, he was able to lead the league in tackles as a rookie and has only continued to be a key cog within Indy's defense over his three seasons and has brought home some hardware to show for it. The 25-year-old won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 and is a three-time All-Pro (two first-team) along with earning two consecutive Pro Bowl nods.
All that has him now spoken in the same breath as some of the league's best linebackers and soon he may be paid like one. Leonard is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021 and is hopeful that he and the Colts can come to terms on a long-term extension. As we've already detailed, his résumé is nearly immaculate and Leonard believes that production should be enough for a deal to come to fruition at some point.
"They take value in me," Leonard told the NFL Network on Tuesday, via NFL.com. "Hopefully, that will show. I think I put in enough work the past three years, I give it my all day in and day out, never miss a day. Once I step on that field I give everything I got, and they know that. Hopefully, we get everything settled and hopefully we're good to go."
Of course, this won't exactly be a small contract that these two sides hope to hammer out. It's conceivable that Leonard could set the market at the linebacker position. According to Spotrac's market value projections, Leonard could be looking at a deal that sees him earning $19 million on an average annual basis. That'd put him above Seattle's Bobby Wagner, who slots in at $18 million AAV for 2022. In terms of all linebackers (inside and outside) Leonard would only be looking up to Chicago pass-rusher Khalil Mack ($23.5 million AAV) if he hits that projected mark.
That's a long way of saying that this could be a delicate process simply given the heights Leonard's numbers could climb. That said, the Colts are projected to have just over $69.2 million in cap space entering the 2022 offseason, so there is plenty of cash to get that deal executed.