As expected, the Bengals will not utilize the NFL franchise tag in 2016.
Cincinnati was never thought to be considering playing tag with one of the team's impending free agents, even if a guy like safety George Iloka was very deserving of it. Other players who were possible tag targets included wide receiver Marvin Jones and cornerback Adam Jones.
But none of the latter were realistic targets, which Iloka seemed to be after a solid 2015 season that followed an outstanding 2014 campaign. It's Iloka's performance in 2014 that is expected to land him a very big contract in free agency this offseason.
In 2015, Iloka fought through several injuries to appear in 12 games while making 35 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, four pass defenses and one interception. What hurt Iloka's chances of being back in the Queen City was that when he was out, Shawn Williams filled in nicely and made it look as though Iloka was never gone. The Bengals believe Williams is ready to step up and take Iloka's place in their defense if Iloka does leave this offseason.
Over the course of his four-year career with the Bengals, Iloka has racked up 189 total tackles, 20 passes defenses, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. He helped the Bengals sport one of the league's best secondaries over the past two years.
Among the teams expected to pursue him this offseason are the Detroit Lions, who reportedly are already targeted him.
It also doesn't help Iloka's bid to remain in Cincinnati that the Bengals are prioritizing Adam Jones and Marvin Jones over him in their free agency plans, according to Bengals.com. There's no doubt Iloka will get big offers in free agency and now it's just a matter of whether the Bengals are willing to match those offers.
Free agency officially opens Wednesday, March 9 at 4:00 p.m. EST, but NFL teams can begin legally tampering with free agents on Monday, March 7 at 12:00 p.m. EST.
It's possible by late next week, George Iloka is no longer a Bengal.