Yesterday, Cincinnati Bengals S George Iloka became an unrestricted free agent when Cincinnati did not use a franchise or transition tag on him. It was kind of a surprise non-move, as Iloka is a big part of their defense, and considered one of the top safeties in the NFL. After the franchise tag deadline passed, Iloka was interviewed on Sirius XM NFL radio. He had some interesting things to say about free agency, the Bengals, and potential suitors:
Bengals FA S @George_iloka: Free agency is an anxious time. I know I have some possible suitors but the the decision is up to me.— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 1, 2016
"I would be open to returning to Cincinnati and finishing what we started, getting a SB ring"— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 1, 2016
Iloka is going to be one of the most hotly pursued free agents on the market when free agency begins. He was a fifth round draft choice in 2012, and has been starting for the Bengals since 2013. He's one of the premier safeties in the NFL, and for comparison sake, let's use Pro Football Focus' overall grading system to compare and contrast. Iloka came in 15th overall in PFF's system, grading out at 82.6. All Pro Harrison Smith, the number one safety in their rankings, graded out at 92.8. When you consider the safety play opposite Smith (Andrew Sendejo was 85th overall with a grade of 52.0) to say Iloka would be an upgrade is a massive understatement.
Why This Makes Sense
The safety position opposite Smith is a gaping black hole on an otherwise stout defense. A starting tandem of Smith and Iloka would take a good secondary and make it, at least on paper, an elite one, and arguably the best secondary in the NFL. With a division full of talented quarterbacks, a deep and talented secondary at all positions is essential, and Iloka would be a coup for Mike Zimmer and company. And let's not forget Iloka was coached by Zimmer for three years, and it was Zimmer that made him a starter one year after he was a fifth round pick. When you add in the fact that players love the guy and want to play for him, which Iloka pretty much said in the interview, the Vikings being a team on the rise, and enough salary cap room to do a deal, the Vikings and Iloka seem like a natural fit.
Why This Doesn't Make Sense
Yeah, let's talk salary. The Vikings are going to need to re-do Harrison Smith's contract soon, and he's going to get paid. The franchise tag number for safeties this year was $10.8 million, so if we use Earl Thomas' contract as a guide, let's say that he'll get a deal somewhere in the $8-9 million range per season, with about $27-28 million guaranteed, roughly speaking. Iloka might not command that kind of number in a re-negotiation if he were under contract like Smith is, but free agency is a time when teams pay stupid money to massively overpay for players. Could Iloka command more than $8/27 from a team like the Browns, or another suitor? Yeah, he could. And would the Vikings go that high? Man, I'm having a tough time saying 'yes' to that, and having approximately $20 million tied up at the safety position.
Likelihood Of Iloka Signing With The Vikings
All that aside, Iloka to the Vikings makes a ton of sense, both from a football and personal relationship perspective. Unless a team like Cleveland were to come in and break the bank for him, the Vikings will have enough room under the salary cap to get him if they want him. When you add in the relationship he has with Mike Zimmer from their time together in Cincinnati, this is probably the one free agent rumor I'd believe over any other player to any other team, at least at this point of the process.