George Iloka

Cowboys Notes: Collins, Jones, Swaim, WRs

The Cowboys boast more defensive line depth than they have in the recent past, and they are expecting to have one of their starters back in time for the regular season. Executive VP Stephen Jones expects Maliek Collins to be ready to go by Week 1. Jones indicated during a Saturday radio interview with 105.3 KRLD-FM (via the Dallas Morning News) that Collins, who suffered another foot injury this offseason but was activated from the PUP list last week, may well be on a pitch count upon returning. He may no longer be a starter, however, with Tyrone Crawford having moved to defensive tackle. Crawford and Antwaun Woods are currently Dallas’ inside starters. Collins has started 30 of the 32 games he’s played since arriving as a third-round pick, so this would create some depth — something Jones said isn’t as prevalent at defensive tackle as it is at end — inside.

Here’s the latest out of Dallas:

  • Stephen Jones dismissed the prospect of Byron Jones returning to safety due to the team’s situation there. Byron Jones is now a cornerback, with new secondary coach Kris Richard preferring taller corners who can press, and Stephen Jones has praised the development the former first-round safety’s made at his new position.
  • Kavon Frazier is now working as Dallas’ starting strong safety, replacing the injured Xavier Woods for the time being, and that’s resulted in Jeff Heath moving to free safety, Calvin Watkins of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The Cowboys do not view the recently signed Jeron Johnson as a starter but instead more of a depth piece behind the current first-stringers. Watkins writes the Cowboys discussed George Iloka, who opted for the Vikings on a league-minimum agreement, but liked Johnson because of his positional flexibility. Stephen Jones hinted at (Twitter link, via the Morning News’ Jon Machota) another safety potentially being added after preseason cuts commence.
  • While the Cowboys discussed Earl Thomas with the Seahawks, they did not replace Jason Witten with a high- or medium-profile player. Geoff Swaim, a 2015 seventh-round pick with nine career catches, will replace the future Hall of Famer in the starting lineup, per Watkins, who adds 2017 UDFA Blake Jarwin is the No. 2 tight end. Rico Gathers may not have a way onto the roster, with Watkins expecting Dallas to carry three tight ends. The Cowboys drafted Dalton Schultz in the fourth round, and he almost certainly will be the No. 3 player here.
  • Stephen Jones dropped an interesting hint about what the Cowboys may be planning with their reconfigured wide receiver corps. The team may choose to carry more than six at this spot. “Traditionally we’ve kept five or six receivers. But if I’m a betting man, I think that ends up being more than five or six,” Jones said (Twitter link, via Machota) of how the Cowboys plan to handle their Week 1 roster. Watkins views Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin, Terrance Williams and third-round rookie Michael Gallup as locks. UFA addition Deonte Thompson and second-year man Noah Brown are currently dealing with injuries, but it doesn’t look like they’re out of the running as a result.

George Iloka Signed For League Minimum

George Iloka‘s one-year deal with the Vikings is worth the league minimum for his experience level ($790K), according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Iloka signed a minimum salary benefit contract with Minnesota, meaning the club will take advantage of the veteran safety’s deal on their salary cap. While Iloka will actually collect $880K ($790K in base salary plus a $90K signing bonus), the Vikings will see only $630K — the league minimum for a player with two years experience — on their cap.

It’s a incredible bargain for a starting-caliber safety, even one that was released at this stage of the year. Stagnant safety market aside, Iloka likely could have found a better price elsewhere, but Schefter reports Iloka wanted to play for his former Bengals defensive coordinator and current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

Iloka figures to supplant Andrew Sendejo and start opposite Harrison Smith in the Vikings’ base defense, but all three safeties could conceivably see the field in sub packages.

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Vikings Sign S George Iloka

It’s a done deal. On Wednesday, the Vikings announced the signing of safety George Iloka

Iloka was released by the Bengals earlier this week, a move that seemingly came out of nowhere. While Cincinnati preferred to go with younger players in the secondary, plenty of other clubs expressed interest in the hard-hitting veteran. The Cowboys and Raiders both discussed signing Iloka, but he was ultimately drawn to Minnesota in order to reunite with coach Mike Zimmer.

Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator for Iloka’s first two seasons before Zimmer went to Minnesota in 2014. When Iloka became a starter in 2013 under Zimmer, the Bengals’ D ranked third in yards allowed per game (305.5) and tied for fifth in points allowed per game (19.1). His relationship with Zimmer nearly led him to sign with the Vikings as a free agent in 2016.

If I was going there, I was going because of Zim,” Iloka told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press back in ’16. “I know what type of locker room he has there just by the type of coach he is.’’

The Vikings missed out on Iloka, but they did manage to re-sign strong safety Andrew Sendejo to a reasonably priced four-year, $16MM deal. Now, Iloka may take Sendejo’s place in the starting lineup.

This has been a tremendous offseason for the Vikings’ defense, and the team as a whole. In the last six moths, the club has signed quarterback Kirk Cousins, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardon, and now Iloka. They’ve also managed to extend key players such as defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks, and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The last major item on the agenda is an extension with linebacker Anthony Barr, who says he badly wants to stay with the Vikings beyond the final year of his current deal.

Iloka has 76 career starts to his credit with nine career interceptions and two forced fumbles.

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Vikings To Meet With George Iloka

The Vikings will meet with free agent safety George Iloka on Wednesday, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). They also hear that a deal is likely to happen, which would make one of the league’s best defenses even better. 

Iloka and head coach Mike Zimmer have a relationship dating back to their days with the Bengals. If signed, Iloka may move from free safety to strong safety and supplant Andrew Sendejo in the starting lineup. With a starting safety tandem of Harrison Smith and Iloka and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mike Hughes, the Vikings’ secondary would be especially tough for opposing quarterbacks.

Iloka, a 2012 fifth-round choice out of Boise State, was a fixture in the Bengals’ starting lineup for years. 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. Iloka isn’t an interception magnet, but he is a hard-hitting safety who can cover well in the middle of the field.

Last year, Iloka finished out with 79 total tackles and one interception. That was his second season at free safety after spending 2013-2015 at the strong safety position.

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AFC Notes: Bengals, Iloka, Kaepernick

The Bengals surprised many with their release of safety George Iloka, but it has been in discussion ever since the drafting of Jessie Bates III in the second round, according to Kat Terrell of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Despite Iloka’s past performance, the Bengals are ready to move ahead with the rookie and give him the playing time he needs to develop. The Bengals were also wary of using a roster spot on a veteran who doesn’t fit on special teams.

Iloka wasn’t a fit for the 2018 Bengals, but there are plenty of other teams who are interested in his services. He’s already on the radar of the Raiders and Cowboys, and it stands to reason that other teams will get on the horn with him in the coming days.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Broncos GM John Elway violated the gag order issued in Colin Kaepernick‘s collusion case when he spoke about the quarterback last week, his agent alleges. “Mr. Elway, clearly he violated the protective order that the NFL has been wielding like a club at me,” attorney Mark Geragos said on his podcast (via Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports). “And he’s apparently suffering from some real brain trauma.”
  • It was widely reported that Jon Gruden‘s deal with the Raiders will pay him a guaranteed $100MM over ten years, but Gruden says that’s not true (via Mike Florio of PFT). The truth may be somewhere in between. It’s believed that Gruden’s $100MM is not fully guaranteed, Florio hears. The structure of the contract is believed to be more along the lines of $25MM over the first five years, and $75MM over the final five years. If that’s the setup of the deal, then it’s possible that the final five years are not fully guaranteed or even largely guaranteed.
  • Former Texans offensive tackle Derek Newton filed a grievance seeking payment of a $500K roster bonus, according Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Newton was officially released in April 12 with a failed physical designation, but his roster bonus was due April 1. The Texans held Newton on the roster past the bonus date, but he didn’t pass the physical. Therefore, Newton is seeking $200K from the team. For now, that number is held against the Texans’ cap.

Raiders Eyeing S George Iloka

The market for George Iloka is starting to take shape. The Raiders plan to make a run at the safety, Michael Gehlken of the Review-Journal tweets

[RELATED: Cowboys Considering George Iloka]

Iloka spent six seasons playing under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther while with the Bengals, so he would be a natural fit for Oakland. Iloka could easily step into a starting role with the Raiders, but Gehlken cautions that finances will play a role in his fit with the team.

The Bengals stunned the league when they released Iloka on Sunday, and teams – including the Cowboys – are already considering the 28-year-old defender.

For now, the Raiders project to start fellow ex-Bengal Reggie Nelson at free safety and 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph at strong safety. If signed, Iloka could take over for Joseph and give Guenther a solid 1-2 in the middle of the secondary.

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Cowboys Considering George Iloka

The Bengals’ surprising decision to part ways with longtime safety starter George Iloka may end up helping an NFC team that’s thin at this position.

Iloka’s on the Cowboys’ radar, with Calvin Watkins of The Athletic tweeting internal discussions are taking place about Dallas bringing in the 28-year-old defender. The Cowboys are discussing the position as a whole and aren’t too far along on a possible Iloka pursuit, but the now-ex-Bengal’s name has surfaced, per Watkins.

Dallas may not have starter Xavier Woods for its Week 1 game, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. Woods strained a hamstring against the Bengals on Saturday, and the team received a firsthand look at Iloka’s most recent work. The Cowboys also lost fellow safety Jameill Showers to a torn ACL, further limiting the Cowboys at a position at which most believe they were already understaffed.

The Cowboys view Iloka as a strong safety, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. They’ve been connected to one of this generation’s best free safeties for months, but nothing’s transpired on the Earl Thomas-to-Dallas front recently. Former UDFA Jeff Heath is stationed at the strong safety spot for now. No known discussions have taken place about moving Byron Jones back to safety.

Iloka started throughout the three most recent Bengals playoff seasons, re-signed with the team in 2016 and started the past two seasons. The former fifth-round pick is entering his seventh NFL season and figures to land somewhere soon, this offseason’s odd safety free agency developments notwithstanding.

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Bengals To Release George Iloka

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.

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Suspension Overturned For George Iloka

George Iloka won’t serve a one-game suspension after all. The Bengals safety has won his appeal, according to an announcement from the team. "<strong

Iloka was initially given a one-game ban for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Antonio Brown with 3:55 left in Monday night’s game. Instead, he’ll pay a $36K fine and suit up for Sunday’s game against the Bears. Had he been suspended, Iloka would have missed out on a $235K game check and his $31K per-game roster bonus. Wednesday’s decision by appeals officer Derrick Brooks will save him a pretty penny.

Initially, Iloka was reprimanded by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan for his especially violent tackle.

On a play which began with 3:55 left in the game, you violently struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area,” Runyan wrote. “The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of ‘eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game’ and has encouraged the League office to suspend offenders for egregious violations such as the one you committed [on Sunday].”

If Iloka’s suspension was upheld, the Bengals likely would have signed a safety or promoted a defensive back like Tony McRae or Sojourn Shelton from the practice squad. They can hold off on any roster moves now.

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was also suspended for an incident in the same game. He tried to appeal his one-game ban, but the league quickly rejected his plea.

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NFL Suspends Steelers’ Smith-Schuster, Bengals’ Iloka

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bengals safety George Iloka have each been suspended one game for violations of safety-related playing rules on Monday night. The league announced the suspensions in a press release on Tuesday, and has already denied an appeal by Smith-Schuster. JuJu Smith-Schuster (vertical)

In his letter to Smith-Schuster notifying him of the suspension, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan slammed his unsportsmanlike conduct in his illegal hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Runyan also noted of Smith-Schuster’s taunting:

You are suspended for the dangerous and unsportsmanlike acts you committed during the fourth quarter of last night’s game. Specifically, with 7:10 remaining, on a passing play to a running back, you lined up a defender and delivered a violent and unnecessary blindside shot to his head and neck area. You then “celebrated” the play by standing over him and taunting him. The contact you made with your opponent placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury and could have been avoided. Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”

Smith-Schuster is appealing his one-game suspension, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Per the collective bargaining agreement, his appeal will be heard by either Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks or former NFL receiver James Thrash.

Meanwhile, Iloka will serve a one-game ban for his helmet to helmet hit on Antonio Brown with 3:55 left in the game. He’ll miss Sunday’s game against the Bears while Smith-Schuster will be forced out of Sunday’s primetime matchup against the Ravens.

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