In a very surprising move, the Bengals are releasing veteran safety George Iloka, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Rapoport adds that the decision is a purely financial one, as Iloka has started every game he has played since 2013. Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network confirms as much, pointing out that Iloka was due $5.3MM in base salary and roster bonuses this season (Twitter link). The Bengals will absorb a dead money hit of $2.1MM but will save $4.1MM against the cap in the process.
Garafolo adds that he expects Iloka to have a new job soon, and plenty of writers are already speculating that the Cowboys could be a fit. Others, however, are more skeptical. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, for instance, notes that all of Iloka’s former coordinators/positional coaches are now with teams who are set at safety, and given the abysmal market for free agent safeties this offseason, Barnwell believes a modest one-year deal could be in the cards for Iloka (Twitter link).
As Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets, the Bengals have frequently spoken this offseason about their desire to trim payroll and about their safety depth. With Iloka gone, it appears that impressive rookie Jessie Bates III, the No. 54 overall pick in this year’s draft, will become the team’s starting free safety.
Iloka, a 2012 fifth-round choice out of Boise State, played in seven games during his rookie campaign but has been a fixture in the Bengals’ starting lineup ever since. He has been quite durable as well, as he has played in 76 of a possible 80 regular season games and all three of the team’s playoff contests since 2013. He made the move from strong safety to free safety in 2016, and while he has not been much of a play-maker at either position — he has nine interceptions and zero sacks in his career — he is a solid overall player who would be an upgrade for a number of teams. He signed a five-year, $30MM pact with Cincinnati in March 2016 after a very good 2015 campaign.
Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com, though, writes that Iloka’s on-field play did factor into his release, as Cincinnati was apparently unhappy with how he performed last season. He will have a chance to prove them wrong on another club.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.