Saturday night saw the Dallas Cowboys play football at AT&T Stadium for the first time since Christmas Eve 2017. It was on that fateful December night that the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention that Earl Thomas ran down Jason Garrett in the tunnel.
It would have been poetic for Earl to have been on the Cowboys for their preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals as it was the team’s very next time on the turf since that infamous moment. What if I told you the next Cowboys safety was on the field Saturday night, though?
George Iloka would make a great Dallas Cowboy
It was the Cincinnati Bengals whom the Cowboys squared off against for their preseason opener and while they lost on the scoreboard they won where it mattered - Zack Martin’s MRI. Cincy left with the preseason win, but they left their starting safety behind - so to speak. On Sunday afternoon they released veteran George Iloka from their team for what was dubbed a “financial decision.”
A stunner: The #Bengals are releasing starting safety George Iloka, per @MikeGarafolo and me. He’s started every game he’s played in since 2013. Purely a financial decision, but a 28-year-old safety hitting the market at this point is good news for interested teams.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 19, 2018
Iloka was entering only the third year of the five-year contract he signed with the Bengals back in 2016. He was slated to count for $6.2M against their cap this season, so these financial reasons are up to the discretion of the Bengals and those have been hard to trust historically. From our friends at Cincy Jungle:
Last week, Marvin Lewis had high praise for [Jessie] Bates, maybe even foreshadowing Iloka’s release.
“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. ”He could end up being the guy back there real quick. You have to keep urging Jessie to move forward.”
Iloka was a fifth round draft pick for the Bengals in 2012 who is entering his seventh NFL season. He’s started every game for the last two years and the only starts he’s missed since 2013 were four due to injury. Iloka racked up 227 tackles, 32 passes defensed, 9 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in his time with the Bengals.
Iloka is a Texas native having attended high school in the Houston area (Sugar Land). He played his college football at - wait for it - BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY. That’s almost a sure-fire guarantee that the Cowboys are going to pay him $100M, right?
In all seriousness the Cowboys really should look into the freshly released Iloka, and it seems like they’re at the very least considering it.
Internal discussions going on with the Cowboys about the safety position a source told @TheAthleticDFW George Iloka name has come up, but nothing serious as of now.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 19, 2018
The immediate question is what “discussions” are being had that Iloka is a part of for the Cowboys. Are they considering adding a veteran? Is Iloka their top candidate? Are they only looking into free agents (like Iloka)? Are they willing to trade for one?
Xavier Woods’ injury seems to be one of the springboards for this
Dallas saw their current starting free safety Xavier Woods go down with what was described as a hamstring injury during the preseason game against the Bengals. The status of Xavier’s health is unknown at this time (of course we’ll update you when we know), but it isn’t looking like the most positive thing as of Sunday afternoon (which is obviously prompting the safety discussion from the team).
While injury news on Zack Martin is positive, a source said the club is still trying to determine the severity of hamstring injury to S Xavier Woods. His availability for opener is clearly in doubt.— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) August 19, 2018
Jameill Showers has officially been lost for the season
Unfortunately, Xavier Woods wasn’t the only Cowboys safety to suffer an injury on Saturday night. Jameill Showers went down and everybody’s immediate worst fears have been confirmed. It’s a torn ACL for the former quarterback.
Projected starting safety Xavier Woods could miss the season opener at Carolina because of a hamstring strain suffered Saturday against Cincinnati, according to sources. Backup safety Jameill Showers, fighting for a roster spot, suffered a torn ACL. the Cowboys are looking at...— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 19, 2018
Even with Xavier fully healthy safety help is still needed
Jeff Heath had an injury scare early on last week and that served as one of the latest reminders at how shallow the safety spot is overall. Xavier Woods’ injury only magnifies that idea. It would behoove the Cowboys to bring in someone else at the very least for depth’s sake, but Iloka could allow them to maximize the strengths of what they already have once Woods is fully healthy again.
Iloka’s bigger size would immediately make him the Cowboys starting strong safety and while that would still leave a hole at the free safety spot it would allow for both Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath to figure out some more centerfielder-like qualities. Perhaps what’s most important is Iloka would be a free agent addition on what would likely be a one-year deal.
Imagine a world where the Cowboys use Iloka as a bridge to Earl Thomas. George solves their short-term needs of a veteran with experience, not to mention that Iloka has only missed four starts since 2013. That’s the type of stability this team needs, especially in the wake of an injury to their starting free safety. Iloka obviously stands to benefit from having a great season in a contract year for one of the NFL’s most visible teams, and come March of next year guess which safety besides George Iloka would be a free agent? Earl Thomas.
The math here makes an overwhelming amount of sense. Let’s get it done.