Jim Leonhard was a July addition for the Cleveland Browns last year. A reserve who many thought was just brought in to help the team's new coaching staff on and off the field during Training Camp. Head Coach Mike Pettine has long admired the veteran safety from their time together with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
Instead of just being a help during Training Camp, Leonhard became the Browns 3rd safety and a replacement for Tashaun Gipson when he injured his knee. Leonhard's role was vital for the Browns and he played very well. According to Pro Football Focus, Leonhard was an asset to the team, rating with a positive 4.7 overall score with an impressive 7.4 score in pass coverage. He played in over 500 snaps for the Browns defense.
Yet Leonhard made it clear that he would be retiring after the end of last season. He stated as much via the team's site:
Sunday’s game against the Ravens will mark the final time the 10-year veteran plays in the NFL. On Friday, Leonhard confirmed he’s leaving the sport he loves and doing it on his own terms. “I’ve got a lot of respect for this game, and I don’t want to do it any other way,” Leonhard said. “I know I could continue to play – the way I’m playing and how I feel … but I’m to that point where I’m ready to move on.”
Pettine made it clear that he would lead the charge trying to get the veteran safety to reconsider:
“I know he keeps saying it, but it will be more than just me. There’ll be a whole line of guys trying to talk him out of it,” Pettine said. “He’s been pretty resolute but I’m sure it’s going to be a situation where he’ll get home, be with his family and go ahead and decompress a little bit and we’ll see how he feels.” Leonhard didn’t budge Friday. “It’s not happening,” Leonhard sheepishly smiled. “I’m very happy with my decision. And I look forward to that next chapter.”
Leonhard's response is what makes today's statement to Sirius XM, as noted on NFL.com, that much more interesting:
"I've told a lot of people, the door is closed, but it's not locked," Leonhard told Alex Marvez and Kirk Morrison of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday. "It would definitely take a very unique offer for me to really consider it. I mean, I love playing in the NFL and love the game, that's never changed, but I just kind of feel like it's time to move on. But at the same time, if it was a really unique opportunity, I would entertain it."
Talk about a change of heart. Leonhard is willing to comeback and Pettine clearly stated he wanted him back, at least last year.
Two very simple questions then need to be answered:
Is Leonhard interested in a return to Cleveland?
Pettine is joined by Rex Ryan as the veteran safety's favorite coaches. Ryan's Buffalo Bills could benefit from another safety and would seem to be in position to succeed quicker than the Browns based on their off-seasons additions.
Leonhard noted in the interview that it would take a "unique opportunity." A vague statement but wonder how much a chance to compete for at least the Playoffs could be a part of that.
His comfort with the Browns coaching staff and teammates should play in their favor a bit if he would like to return.
Would the Browns want him to return?
Last year Leonhard played a very important role for the Browns, yet would they welcome him back? Pettine's statement seems to to say they would but things have changed since then.
The Browns like the upside of Jordan Poyer, the 24 year old safety who has taken Gipson's role so far this off-season. The Browns also drafted Ibraheim Campbell out of Northwestern. While many think he is the heir apparent to Donte Whitner, he has the range to play as a 3rd safety as well.
So while Leonhard was very useful and Pettine loves the veteran safety, if he wants to return to Cleveland, the Browns may not have interest in him.
Do you want Jim Leonhard back this year>