In case you were out all day Sunday, the Bengals cut starting safety George Iloka.
Obviously, Iloka’s release was good news for several Bengals, but it was also bad news for a select few. We’re here to break down who benefited the most and least from Iloka’s surprising departure.
While Jessie Bates is the guy likely to start thanks to Iloka being cut, he wasn’t the biggest winner. After all, his roster spot is secured for this year and probably the duration of his rookie contract.
The same cannot be said of Brandon Wilson, as the second-year safety has already been cut once in his career, and he was firmly on the roster bubble prior to this news. Wilson had a good showing in training camp and the preseason thus far, enough to think he was on the right side of the roster bubble entering Week 3 of the preseason, but he was still going to sweat it out going into cutdown day.
Now, Wilson has a little room to breath as he’s in good shape for one of the final spots at safety. Heck, he may even end up playing defensive snaps this year vs. just being relegated to special teams, which is what would have happened had he made the final roster with Iloka on it.
With Josh Shaw attempting to make the full-time switch to safety after spending most of his career at cornerback, he too was firmly on the roster bubble prior to Iloka being cut. The final safety spot was likely coming down to Wilson vs. Shaw, and for now, it looked like Shaw was the odd man out.
Now, it may be a scenario where the Bengals keep both guys, especially since Shaw can play two positions. He is now much closer to seeing the field while also giving them emergency depth at cornerback.
Arguably the Bengals’ best undrafted free agent signing this year, Trayvon Henderson has had a relatively quiet training camp and preseason since making noise in OTAs. It seemed like his best hope of staying in Cincinnati was on the practice squad, but with Iloka out of the picture, there’s an outside shot at the 53-man roster.
Not only does the move promote the 21-year-old Jessie Bates III to a starter, it may also open a roster spot for another rookie safety who turned 23 last week in Hawaii’s undrafted Trayvon Henderson.
Henderson has a great opportunity to make the Week 1 roster. Now, it’s just a matter of seizing the opportunity and running with it.
As Hobson mentioned (and as common sense suggests), Jessie Bates is now the favorite to be the Bengals’ starting free safety in 2018. Bates has had a solid preseason after going relatively unnoticed in training camp, so the coaches must really like what they’ve seen in him to this point.
Even though Bates was a second-round pick, this coaching staff has typically brought rookies along very slowly and waited for veterans to leave before handing the young guns a starting job. For the team to go out of its way to cut a veteran like Iloka may speak to how much they like Bates (or there are some deeper-seeded issues, which is also totally possible).
How can a defensive end be a loser because of a safety being cut?
Simple. Johnson is just another aging veteran with young studs breathing down his neck for playing time, and possible a roster spot. We saw the rise of Auden Tate, Josh Malone and John Ross lead to the release of Brandon LaFell.
Then we saw the Bengals cut Iloka to seemingly pave the way for Jessie Bates to start.
Johnson is in a very similar situation with Sam Hubbard, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson all looking like superior edge defenders at this stage, not to mention the Bengals signed Chris Baker to help shore up the interior, while Andrew Billings is also coming along nicely, negating the need to keep Johnson solely because of his nickel pass-rushing ability on the inside.
That’s not even accounting for Andrew Brown, a promising fifth-round pick who is recovering from injury and probably doesn’t make the final roster if Johnson is kept. If Johnson is cut, the Bengals can keep Willis, Lawson, Hubbard and Carlos Dunlap on the edge, then Billings, Baker, Brown, Ryan Glasgow and Geno Atkins on the inside.
The Bengals’ image of ‘taking care of our own’
One of the biggest themes of the Marvin Lewis/Mike Brown regime has been the Bengals drafting, developing and re-signing their own. Whether it’s All-Pros like A.J. Green and Geno Atkins or questionable starters like Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Dre Kirkpatrick and Russell Bodine (they tried extending him this offseason, despite him being one of the NFL’s worst centers), the Bengals have been one of the league’s best at DDR.
That is, until they cut Iloka less than three years into the big five-year contract they signed him to when he was a prized free agent in 2016, which made him one of the league’s highest-paid safeties.
That’s a big hit to the Bengals’ DDR image, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s been painfully clear this approach has burned them more times than it’s helped them, so maybe they’re finally changing their approach.