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Shaq Leonard picks Eagles over Cowboys in a big win before matchup. Can he play right away?

PHILADELPHIA − The Eagles won't have to worry about Shaq Leonard playing against them this Sunday when they face the Dallas Cowboys.

That's because the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker will be playing for them. Leonard signed a one-year contract Monday with the Eagles, providing much needed depth to a linebacking corps that was torched by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the Eagles' 42-19 loss.

"We just feel like he adds that depth to our team with some of the injuries that we’ve had there," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "He adds some depth to that (position)."

Sirianni was then asked if Leonard, who had 65 tackles in nine games with the Indianapolis Colts this season will be ready to play this Sunday in a critical game for both the Eagles (10-2) and Cowboys (9-3).

The game is not only for first place in the NFC East, but conceivably for first place in the entire conference.

"We’ll see," Sirianni said. "I don’t want to put any expectation on him without letting him be in the building for a little bit. I’ll have a better feel for that. I know how smart Shaq is, how much he works at it … We’re going to try to get him up to speed as quick as possible."

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Why Eagles need Shaq Leonard to help right away

Suffice it to say, the Eagles didn't sign Leonard, 28, to watch from the sidelines. They desperately need Leonard, even if he isn't the same player he was from 2018-21 when he was one of the top all-around linebackers in the NFL.

That's because both Eagles starting linebackers are injured. Nakobe Dean is on injured reserve, and Zach Cunningham suffered a hamstring strain against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 26. He missed the game against the 49ers, and it's not known if he'll be back against the Cowboys.

Both of their replacements, Nicholas Morrow and Christian Elliss, did not play well against the 49ers, although Sirianni pushed back on that, saying that he still has faith in the linebackers on the team.

As a whole, the Eagles rank 23rd in the NFL in total defense, allowing 350.6 yards per game. They're 30th in passing defense, allowing 260.3 yards per game. In the last two games against San Francisco and Buffalo (a 37-34 overtime win), the Eagles gave up 76 points and 961 yards.

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) during game action at EverBank Stadium on Sunday, Oct 15, 2023, in Jacksonville.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard (53) during game action at EverBank Stadium on Sunday, Oct 15, 2023, in Jacksonville.

Nick Sirianni's ties to Indianapolis Colts came in handy

Leonard visited the Dallas Cowboys last Tuesday, but he left without signing a contract to visit with the Eagles the next day. He then took the next five days to make his decision.

Leonard knows Sirianni from when Sirianni was the Colts offensive coordinator from 2018-20, Leonard's first three seasons in the NFL.

Sirianni also consulted with Colts head coach Shane Steichen, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator for Sirianni's first two seasons, along with a few defensive coaches who still remain with the Colts from Sirianni's time there.

"I have a great relationship with a lot of people there in Indy and a great relationship with Shaq, so we’re confident in the player that we’re getting, and we’re confident in the person that we’re getting," Sirianni said. "We still have confidence from the tape that he can play.

"He’s been a high level player in this league for a very long time … He still has a knack to take the ball away, still has the knack to run and hit the ball carrier, still has that length to make throws (difficult) in the passing lanes."

Leonard, the Colts' second-round pick in 2018 out of South Carolina State, was named to the Pro Bowl three times in his first four seasons. That began as a rookie when he led the NFL with 163 tackles to go along with 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions.

The next season, Leonard made the Pro Bowl again with 5 interceptions, along with 121 tackles, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. In 2021, Leonard had 8 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions to go along with 122 tackles, and made the Pro Bowl for a third time.

But Leonard had a second back surgery in the summer of 2022, playing in only three games that season. He was a full-time starter through 9 games this season, but he was only playing 70% of the defensive snaps, losing time to E.J. Speed.

Leonard had played close to 100% of the snaps in his first four seasons. This season, Leonard had 65 tackles, but no sacks, fumble recoveries or interceptions.

The Eagles need that to change, and fast.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on X @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Eagles sign Shaq Leonard, who picks them over Cowboys before big game