In what multiple reports termed a “stunning” development, on Sunday the Cincinnati Bengals released their starting safety George Iloka, which immediately fueled lots of speculation about where the six-year NFL veteran could land — and many Kansas City Chiefs fans want Brett Veach to try and sign him. Is Iloka worth going after? Can the Chiefs make use of him? Could they sign him?
Let’s try to sort it out.
Iloka, 28, was a fifth-round pick for the Bengals in 2012 and is listed at six-foot-four and 225 pounds. Pro-Football-Reference lists Iloka with a weighted career AV (approximate value) of 27 over his six seasons with the Bengals. For comparison, Eric Berry’s weighted career AV is 48 over eight seasons and Dan Sorenson’s is nine over four seasons.
According to Rebecca Toback from our SBNation sister blog Cincy Jungle — with whom I spoke this morning — Iloka is a versatile player.
“Iloka’s biggest strength could be that he isn’t just a free safety. He’s played as a single high safety, cover 2 safety, and an overhang and box defender. And I’d say he’s been above average in any role he’s taken on.
“Another great asset when it comes to Iloka is his leadership,” she continued. “The young guys all looked to him for guidance and advice, and he’s a great guy to have in the locker room. He may not be the best guy on the defense, but I think he’s a highly capable starter.”
More evidence for Iloka’s leadership may be seen in a Twitter post from Bengals safety Jessie Bates, who is perceived as Iloka’s replacement.
It’s hard watching @George_iloka leave today...You have taught me so much in the short amount of time we had together & I will forever be grateful for your investment in me bro! Whatever team signs you is getting a hell of a player & a even better man. Respect ✊ #BELIEVE— Jessie Bates III (@jlbiii3) August 19, 2018
Toback also highlighted some weaknesses Iloka has displayed while playing with the Bengals.
“He isn’t the kind of guy who has the range and speed to roam the deep middle of the field, which contributed toward Bates rising above him and the Bengals decided to part ways with him. He hesitates a bit too much in space, which allows ball carriers to take advantage and gain some extra yards before he can bring them down.
“He should be used an enforcer, as opposed to a center fielder,” she said. “He can brutally hit you, but struggles with instinct before the ball is in the air.”
Here are Iloka’s basic stats from his years with the Bengals.
Note: This table doesn’t show two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery with which Iloka has been credited in his career.
If you’re interested in more advanced data, there’s this tidbit:
In the spring of 2016, the Bengals signed Iloka to a five-year, $30 million contract. His cap hit for 2018 was somewhere above $5 million, and the Bengals will have to carry something more than a $1 million in dead money into 2019 after releasing him.
Do the Chiefs need Iloka?
As Obi-wan so famously said, this will depend almost entirely on your own point of view.
If you believe any of the following:
- that Daniel Sorenson is a liability playing next to Eric Berry; or
- that Daniel Sorenson’s injury is more serious than expected, and he could miss more than a couple of weeks in the regular season; or
- that Eric Berry’s health is an issue of genuine concern; or
- that players like Eric Murray, Leon McQuay or Armani Watts aren’t good enough to compete as starters
then you are probably pounding the table for the Chiefs to sign George Iloka.
Can the Chiefs afford Iloka?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Before accounting for the signing of Orlando Scandrick on Sunday, the NFLPA had the Chiefs with about $8.5 million in cap space. Scandrick’s contract is reported to be a one year deal worth about $1.5 million.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room — but there is still some cap room with which Chiefs general manager Brett Veach can work.
But you can argue that there are enough teams in need of safety help that Iloka could get a pretty good contract — one that the Chiefs might not be able to match.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers learned that safety Jaylen Watkins’ recent injury is a torn ACL, and he will likely miss the entire season. Watkins might not have been the starter in Week 1, but the Chargers could now be looking for help at the position.
Interest from the Dallas Cowboys has been reported.
The #Cowboys are considering taking at look at veteran safety George Iloka per a source informed. The former Boise State player would be in good company with alums like DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Leighton Vander Esch currently on the roster. https://t.co/XMPn5oevDl— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) August 19, 2018
And, of course, there’s informed speculation.
Dallas could certainly have interest in George Iloka. I’d expect Oakland to have a conversation about adding him too with his ties to former Bengals DC Paul Guenther. Other teams I could see having interest include Cleveland and Indianapolis.— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) August 19, 2018
Our own Pete Sweeney believes that the Chiefs will not have the cap room to make a winning offer for Iloka, but our Matt Stagner makes a valid counterpoint.
Counter point: the safety market this whole offseason... have you seen an expensive deal or bidding war at Safety yet? https://t.co/oes8uA4EFB— Matt Stagner (@stagdsp) August 19, 2018
Indeed, the current undervaluation of the safety market might have played a role in Iloka’s release — as noted by Chad Forbes.
#Bengals Cutting Safety George Iloka. Saves $4.4M against cap & potentially more if designated June 1st. Another example devaluation of Safety Market. Bengals must’ve seen contracts Kenny Vaccaro & Tre Boston signed to realize Iloka was overpaid. Maybe a fit for Eric Reid?— Chad Forbes (@NFLDraftBites) August 19, 2018
But it’s possible there may be more to the Bengals releasing Iloka than his market cost. While there are no indications that Iloka is a locker room problem — in fact, quite the opposite — he is outspoken about social and political issues.
George Iloka started both preseason games, including last night. At no point did anyone think that he was on some roster bubble. Which makes me conclude that Iloka's activism on Twitter was a problem for "The Family". Anyone else know?— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 19, 2018
Toback also noted on Twitter this morning that the Bengals made no effort to restructure Iloka’s contract, and addressed it further during our conversation.
“The first claim made about Iloka being cut was that it was a financial decision,” she said. ”I hope that’s the case, and that it didn’t have to do with him speaking his mind. Because he does speak his mind on social media, but it hasn’t impacted a game in any way. Nor has he kneeled or sat during the National Anthem. No Bengals player has done that.”
Toback thinks that the logic for the release of Iloka — which so far has made little sense to many Bengals fans and pundits — may become more clear in the coming days.
“I’d say if the Bengals extend Geno Atkins and/or Carlos Dunlap this week, fans will understand the move a lot better and it will help show this was a financial decision.”
“If the Bengals were going to make him a backup after five years as a starter,” she continued, “he would have been getting paid too much to be a backup. And, the safety market is not great right now, so starting-caliber guys are getting what backups have received in recent years.”
Toback then gave us gave the last word.
“Also, I will say I was truly shocked by his release. I loved covering him. He’s a great guy, and the team that signs him will be lucky to have him!”
If you’d like to learn more about Iloka — particularly why the Bengals might have chosen to release him — Cincy Jungle’s Josh Kirkendall has a new article outlining some other theories being put forth.
Some — if true — would be good news for another team. Others... less so.