The Vikings just bolstered an already-stout secondary. Former Bengals safety George Iloka has officially signed with Minnesota on a one-year deal, as first reported by NFL.com and confirmed by the Vikings. The Bengals released Iloka Sunday in a move to save cap money.
Iloka had been with Cincinnati since 2012. He spent two of his seasons working under Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer, so he steps in with an established relationship. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound safety is coming off a career year with the Bengals. He recorded 80 combined tackles, five pass deflections and an interception while starting all 16 games.
Iloka sets himself apart from other NFL safeties due to his size and instincts. He has proven to be a solid zone cover, though his man skills are a step behind his new safety mates Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith. Given the productive level of the Vikings’ current starting safeties, Iloka’s role seems to fit most as a sub-package player.
In Sendejo and Smith, Minnesota has two safeties who are extremely versatile, with ability to cover slots, tight ends and center field with equal skill. Because of that, Iloka could step in as a fifth defensive back and play as a deep zone or as a strong safety. Either of these positions would play to his strengths.
The question moving forward in preseason is how Iloka’s signing impacts other players on the roster. In the short term, Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander were the guys slated for nickel corner snaps. If Iloka comes in as the fifth defensive back, Alexander and Hughes could see a reduction in reps on Sundays. Iloka’s presence could also make roster spots precarious for the likes of Terence Newman, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse, all guys expected to make the 53-man prior to the signing.
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As far as long-term implications, the question remains how Iloka would dampen the Vikings’ ability to extend Anthony Barr. Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press laid out a scenario where the Vikings could still extend Barr after signing Iloka.
According to the NFL Players Association, the #Vikings have $10.442 million of salary-cap room. There's room to sign George Iloka and to still sign Anthony Barr to an extension because just a fifth of Barr's signing bonus would count against this year's cap.
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) August 22, 2018
That said, the chances of keeping Iloka past this year are slim to begin with, so this signing exists exclusively with 2018 in mind. And as a win-now move, there is now question that Iloka should make the Minnesota defense even better.
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