According to reports, the Cincinnati Bengals are releasing starting free safety George Iloka.
A source told ESPN the move was related to his performance in 2017.
A Bengals source said the team wasn’t happy with how George Iloka played last year, which was pretty clear when they tried to pursue Kurt Coleman at the NFL combine. The Bengals went after him hard but he signed with the Saints. A source told me the Bengals indicated the move was for financial reasons, but as for the timing, it’s obvious they like what they see in Jessie Bates, which is why he was subbing in for Iloka with the first team during Saturday’s preseason game.
This reasoning doesn’t compute.
Can we call bullshit on this?
Iloka ranked third on the team with 79 tackles last season, secured an interception (only one Bengals player had more than one), and defensed six passes. Of the 26 passes opposing quarterbacks threw to players he covered, only 57 percent were completed. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 68.4 against Iloka.
Using performance as justification seems like a stretch.
The team meeting with free agents like Kurt Coleman and Eric Reid during the offseason does hint in hindsight that they weren’t happy with Iloka’s performance last year. You can use this argument, but they’ve had far worse talent remain on the team for longer stretches for me to readily accept this argument.
Maybe it is about money.
According to Spotrac, Iloka was due $5.6 million in cash with a cap hit of $6.2 million. While his dead cap number was $2.1 million, the Bengals save $4.1 million against the cap. Perhaps this is the first step to secure contract extensions for Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap — a move that would make sense if they’re able to secure both players for the future.
Our own Rebecca Toback is reporting that the team didn’t attempt to renegotiate Iloka’s deal.
The Bengals did not make any attempt to restructure George Iloka's contract before cutting him, according to a source.— Rebecca Toback (@Rebecca_Toback) August 19, 2018
Eric Edholm with Pro Football Weekly writes that a source “close to George Iloka” believes that it’s strictly about money.
Asked source close to George Iloka if he thought there was any anthem-related connection to his release— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 19, 2018
Answer I got: “No. strictly money”
However, Michael Johnson is scheduled to earn nearly $5 million with a cap number of $6.1 million. Cincinnati arguably has more productive depth on the defensive line than in the secondary. In other words, as long as Michael Johnson remains with the team, cost saving is a bullshit argument.
Perhaps the team released Iloka due to his activism on social media. For several years, Iloka has been vocal about social causes. He didn’t take a knee and most of his opinions and expressions remained on social media on his own time. Based on Reid’s complaint against the Bengals, it’s entirely possible that the team would have an issue with a player who is outspoken.
As of right now, Iloka’s release doesn’t make sense and those arguments don’t fly.
Regardless, the Bengals are now all-in with rookie safety Jessie Bates, who we reviewed last week. Head coach Marvin Lewis hinted at his eventual promotion last week.
“We have been pushing him in early, and you want to see him take command when he has to take command,” Lewis said of Bates during his August 14 press conference. ”He could end up being the guy back there real quick. You have to keep urging Jessie to move forward.”
We just didn’t know it would happen this quickly.