Vikings in Running for Shaq Leonard; Akayleb Evans Returns to Practice

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Happy Thanksgiving, Minnesota Vikings fans. I hope everyone is feasting while watching the Packers and Lions beat each other up while the Vikings playoff chances improve.

And there’s more good news. On Thursday morning, Dianna Russini (The Athletic) reported that Minnesota is one of a handful of teams still in the running for star free agent linebacker Shaq Leonard, who was shockingly released by the Indianapolis Colts earlier this week. Russini listed the Eagles and Cowboys as two for sure contenders, along with others that she did not name.

Shaq Leonard’s next stop

The former Colts linebacker cleared waivers Wednesday and is now a free agent, and according to multiple league sources, he has options. Leonard spent the last few season in Indy after signing a five-year, $98.25 million contract extension in 2021, but then injuries held him back. Now teams still in contention like the Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings and others are collecting information on him. A league source said Leonard may take his time making a decision.

Dianna Russini – The Athletic

Related: NFC Playoff Picture Shines Positive Light on Minnesota Vikings

Leonard shot out of a cannon in 2018 as a rookie for the Colts, collecting 163 tackles and running away with defensive rookie of the year. He followed that up with an all-pro 2nd team season in 2019 and two straight 1st team all-pro selections in 2020 and 2021.

But in 2022, Shaq Leonard went through two back surgeries that have put his hall of fame trajectory in danger. Obviously, the Colts lost some faith in Leonard, as his snaps dropped to a career low 70%, and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure. Then, Indy shocked the football world when they waived him. Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent, after clearing waivers.

Akayleb Evans returns to practice

Adding Shaq Leonard would, if nothing else, add starter depth to the roster. Is he the guy he once was? No. Can he return to that player, at 28 years old? We do not know.

That’s why the second positive development today is, as of now, bigger news. Cornerback Akayleb Evans, who has didn’t play vs the Broncos on Sunday night and hasn’t practiced in a week and a half, returned to Vikings practice Thursday in limited fashion.

Minnesota’s defense, under Brian Flores, continues to improve every week. But their secondary was not the same last week, without Evans, who has become the clear-cut CB2, opposite Byron Murphy Jr. The sooner he comes back, the better.

Related: Minnesota Vikings Defense Rankings 2023 – Week 12

It looks like Jaren Hall is fully out of concussion protocol, though Nick Mullens is still expected to backup Josh Dobbs vs the Bears.

Justin Jefferson was also listed as limited. It would be a flabbergasting development, at this point, if he were to play on Monday night vs the Chicago Bears. TJ Hockenson was also limited but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play.

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