Following a workout today, veteran safety Jim Leonhard (5-8, 188) signed a one-year deal with the Broncos. The former Wisconsin Badger is entering his eighth NFL season, having spent three years in Buffalo, one in Baltimore, and three with the Jets. He worked out for the Bills on Thursday and reportedly received an offer, but chose to continue on to Denver anyway.
In seven seasons, Leonhard has played in 94 games (60 starts), accumulating 254 tackles, 66 assists, 3.5 sacks, six interceptions for 141 yards and one touchdown, 25 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and four recoveries. The 29-year-old has also returned 82 punts for 820 yards, and 12 kickoffs for 256 yards.
Said Leonhard via Twitter:
It's never a bad day to sign an NFL contract. I'm proud to be a Denver Bronco. Time for work.
A broken leg cut Leonhard's 2010 season short after 11 games, while his 2011 campaign ended prematurely when he suffered a torn patellar tendon while returning an interception against the Chiefs in Week 14. He had been considered a team leader on and off the field with the Jets, and he quarterbacked their defensive secondary.
Leonhard started thirteen games in 2011, grading out at +2.9 overall according to PFF (-0.1 run, -1.9 pass rush, +5.7 pass coverage, -0.8 penalty). That overall grade ranked 17th among all NFL safeties, while his coverage mark was sixth-best; he has also tended to make more big plays in coverage than he allows, and passes are not completed at a high rate against him.
Broncos VP of football operations John Elway announced the signing via Twitter:
We've signed free-agent safety Jim Leonhard. He'll add experience and depth to our secondary.
Denver's first move of free agency also added a veteran safety, when Mike Adams was signed to replace Brian Dawkins. Adams was expected to be paired with one of the team's second-year safeties, 2010 draftees Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore.
But after inclement weather forced the Broncos indoors for practice on their second day of training camp, Carter suffered a hamstring and knee injury while trying to avoid a soccer goalpost. It was reported yesterday that Carter underwent minor arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee earlier in the week, and he is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of Denver's preseason.
Last Saturday, the team added former CU Buffs safety Anthony Perkins, and the addition of Leonhard brings the team back up to the 90-man roster limit; a slot had opened up when WR D'Andre Goodwin cleared waivers and was placed on IR.
In addition to providing competition and depth at safety, the addition of Leonhard helps shore up what had been a shrinking group of punt returners.
Heading into camp, undrafted rookies Eric Page and Coryell Judie were thought to be returner candidates, but failed physicals resulted in their release before the first practice at Dove Valley. Since then, wideouts Eric Decker and Matt Willis, and defensive backs Tracy Porter, Syd'Quan Thompson, and Drayton Florence have been among the primary punt returners.