George Iloka is back, and Marvin Jones is gone. In my dream offseason piece, I outlined the Bengals' need to re-sign Iloka, while I noted that Jones will likely see a contract the Bengals aren't willing to match. And not to toot my own horn, but that's exactly what happened.
The Bengals had more than enough reason to make a play for Marvin Jones, which seemingly every Bengals fan (myself included) wanted to see. Cincinnati had the money to sign both Jones and Iloka, if the team really wanted to. But when Detroit shelled out nearly $8 million per year, there was no chance the Bengals were going to match Detroit's offer. Shortly after news broke of Marvin Jones' departure, the Bengals announced the signing of George Iloka to a five-year, $30 million contract.
Like most Bengals contracts, Iloka's deal includes a high salary throughout his first three years and then drops off through his final three seasons. The deal reportedly includes $18 million in the first three season of the deal guaranteed. If his production stays where it is, Iloka will be a huge bargain signing for Cincinnati. If his play drops off, the team should be able to cut the safety without sacrificing a ton of dead money, though, that's something they rarely do. The contract gives the Bengals cap flexibility for the future, which is great, considering the upcoming moves the Bengals will need to make to retain Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert and others.
Iloka's signing means Reggie Nelson will likely move on, because the Bengals want to see what they have in Shawn Williams before he hits free agency following the 2016 season. If the Bengals like what they see in Williams, they'll likely have the means to re-sign him too, given that Cincinnati let Marvin Jones walk.
Marvin Jones' departure is saddening, as he was a beloved member of the Bengals franchise and a fantastic person on and off the field. But you can't knock the guy for taking the higher salary; he has a family to feed. Letting Jones walk, while an upsetting move to fans, was the right move to make. The team saved money in letting Jones walk, it was able to re-sign one of its two top free agent priorities and now has enough money to make the rest of the free agent signings it wants to make. The Bengals will be able to do this, while saving money for upcoming re-signings down the line.
While Andy Dalton's job will be more difficult without Jones out wide, his job had already been made more difficult with Hue Jackson's departure to the Browns. Dalton is now the commander in chief of the Bengals' offense, and the team's willingness to move on from Jones shows a confidence in the Bengals quarterback that is reassuring. Entering his sixth NFL season, Andy Dalton doesn't have excuses to make. He was an MVP candidate before going down with injury, and he's shown progress in each of his five NFL seasons to date. If he can replicate his 2015 production without Hue Jackson as an offensive coordinator and without Jones out wide, skeptics won't have any choice but to acknowledge that Dalton is the real deal.