Philadelphia Eagles: Two years later, George Iloka is back on the market

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Once the apple of many fans’ eyes, former Philadelphia Eagles free agent target George Iloka is back on the market. Could you help fill a need at safety?

Boy, a lot can change in two years in the NFL.

Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles had a new, unproven head coach that was very few fans’ first choice, a returning GM who’d gone out of his way to select Marcus Smith in the first round, and an unproven FCS college quarterback they’d mortgaged their future for.

What a difference a few years can make.

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Though some may forget it now, the time period after the disastrous Chip Kelly tenure required a pretty serious rebuilding effort to get the team back to championship contention, with a number of important positions up for grabs, including the team’s starting free safety position.

After fan favorite and former Oregon Duck Walter Thurmond decided to retire from football to pursue other interests off the field, Philly was on the lookout for a ballhawking center fielder to pair with Malcolm Jenkins under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and for many fans, the choice was clear.

They wanted Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka.

Iloka, a former fifth-round pick out of Boise State, may be one of the most unique players in the entire NFL, and by extension was viewed as the proverbial crown jewel of the 2016 safety class. Standing a way above average 6-foot-4 with almost 35-inch arms and a 4.66 40 yard dash, Iloka looked like Kam Chancellor with Earl Thomas‘ game and could have finally returned that hard-hitting alpha safety to the City of Brotherly Love that fans have sorely missed since the days of Brian Dawkins.

But then, in a move that very few people expected, the Eagles opted to instead sign a former undrafted cornerback out of Virginia away from the then-St. Louis Rams by the name of Rodney McLeod.

In hindsight, this signing could not have been more perfect.

Just like when Roseman and company signed Malcolm Jenkins over more popular big names like T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd a few seasons earlier (a move that now looks immaculate as both players have bounced around the league), the Eagles identified a player with a skillset that fit perfectly with what they like to do, and struck a long-term deal, locking up one of the league’s best safety tandems for the remainder of their primes.

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Essentially foreshadowing what he would do in years to come with similar signings of Alshon Jeffery, Stefen Wisniewski, and Timmy Jernigan.

Fast forward two years and McLeod and the rest of the Eagles are Super Bowl champions. Iloka, on the other hand, is a free agent once more.

Though he did sign a big money 5-year, $30 million deal two seasons prior (with only $5 million guaranteed) the Bengals simply opted against paying a luxury player roughly $6 million a year when they had a cheaper replacement in Wake Forest second-round pick Jessie Bates.

Philadelphia Eagles
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /

Does George Iloka have a place in Philly?

So, with Iloka now a free agent and the Eagles still relatively light at safety, should the team bring in a former fan favorite to serve as their third safety going into the 2018 NFL season?

Totally, but I doubt they will.

Iloka is obviously in a tough spot at the moment, as the current safety market is one of the tightest in recent memory, with a plethora of quality, starting caliber players like Tre Boston, Eric Reid, and Kenny Vaccaro spent the vast majority of their summers unemployed, but it seems unlikely that Philly would offer him the best opportunity at this point in the summer.

Now granted, Iloka would actually be a great fit in the Eagles scheme, as he could be a major asset (an upgrade over incumbent Corey Graham) in the team’s big nickel package, allowing Jenkins to slide down into the slot to take on big inside receivers or Jordan Reed-esque tight ends, but with teams like the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, and maybe even Green Bay Packers actually looking for a potential starting safety at this point in the summer, would the former Bengal seriously forgo a potential starting position to be a subpackage performer on a Super Bowl favorite?


Unfortunately, it seems like a potential marriage between George Iloka and the Philadelphia Eagles simply isn’t in the cards now or moving forward. With the league’s best safety tandem already in place on a pair of big-money deals, Philly would likely only look at Iloka as a part-time, sub-package player who could be an absolute terror in the middle of the field as a hybrid safety/linebacker in the nickel, dime and big nickel.

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Barring something unforeseen, the 28-year old Iloka can likely find a more expansive role elsewhere, one that will likely pay him a whole lot more money too.