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Intrigue Surrounds Inking Of Bengals' Iloka

Cincinnati can afford him, but how much can the Bengals justify paying with three other starting members of the secondary due to become free agents?

As one of the top safeties in football, George Iloka will be a wanted man in March if he hits NFL free-agency before the Bengals sign him.

Iloka, a fifth-year player in 2016, is due to be one of the top three safeties available on the market, with a consensus that he's behind Eric Berry and Eric Weddle but ahead of teammate Reggie Nelson for the really big bucks. Make no mistake, Iloka will get paid as one of the top free safeties. The Bengals, with about $35 million worth of cap room, can afford him. But, how much can they justify paying him when they also have three other starting members of the secondary, including two Pro Bowlers, due to become free agents?

The Bengals may have to outbid teams led by former coaches, who might have an inside track on Iloka. A report from CSN Mid-Atlantic suggests the Redskins will target a younger safety during free agency. Iloka turns 26 March 31, and he's already a three-year starter. Iloka joined the Bengals a year after Redskins head coach Jay Gruden came to Cincinnati as offensive coordinator.

Former Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph is in Miami as the new defensive coordinator, where he could use a safety of Iloka's caliber.

Some believe that Cleveland -- under new management with head coach Hue Jackson, who followed Gruden as Bengals OC -- is ready to raid Cincinnati of some of its best talent. This could potentially serve the dual purpose of strengthening the Browns and weakening the Bengals, especially if they purloin Iloka.

It's no secret that Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the former Bengals DC, loves Iloka. But, does Zimmer covet him?

Those potential destinations add to the intrigue surrounding the fast-blooming Iloka. He has started all but four games since the beginning of the 2013 season when he became a starter in just his second year after being a fifth-round draft choice in 2012. Iloka is a quick learner and adapter. In 2008, he was the youngest player in his college conference at age 17. He played in every game that season with five starts for a Boise State team that went 12-0 before losing to Andy Dalton's TCU squad in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.

A strong, long and lanky athlete, Iloka’s 34 1/2-inch arms were the longest among defensive backs at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. He was considered one of the best safety prospects in the 2012 draft, but was the 32nd pick in the fifth round, a veritable bargain for the Bengals. After seeing time in just seven games as a rookie, he emerged for the Cincinnati in 2013, playing 96.7 percent of the snaps. He exhibited great range and speed, and began using his length as an advantage in coverage.

Iloka, a powerful but fast 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete, broke out in 2014 when he totaled career-highs in tackles (74), passes defensed (10) and interceptions (3). He graded out as a top cover safety at Pro Football Focus, missing just 12 snaps. PFF said that among 59 safeties who played at least 50 percent of his team's snaps in 2014, Iloka was No. 1 in passer rating against him, allowing a QB rating of 18.4. He finished 2013 as PFF's No. 20 safety out of 86 qualifying players.

Injuries, primarily a balky groin, limited him to 12 starts in 2015. He finished with 47 tackles, four passes defensed and one interception. He was one of four Bengals secondary members grading out at 80 or better by PFF, nearly equaling the grade of Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones.

Though he once struggled at times against the run and while attempting tackles in space, Iloka has made strides in those areas, making him one of the best all-around safeties who's yet to play in the Pro Bowl. PFF said Iloka's run defense grade over the last two seasons is +4.7, while his coverage grade is +7.2.

Cha-ching!


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