The Cleveland Browns may be in the market for a safety in free agency and could take a look at George Iloka of the Cincinnati Bengals.
With Monday’s decision to not place the franchise or transition tag on Tashaun Gipson, the Cleveland Browns may find themselves in the market for a free safety when free agency opens on March 9.
But unlike right tackle, where there are limited options for replacing Mitchell Schwartz if he leaves, the Browns may have a ready replacement just down the road in George Iloka of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Iloka was a three-year starter for the Bengals at strong safety (also making him an attractive option if the Browns decide to move on from Donte Whitner) but can also play the free safety position. He has five career interceptions and 128 career tackles and will turn 26 at the end of this month.
Gipson, who will also turn 26 this summer, by comparison has 14 career interceptions and 156 career tackles. He has missed time in each of the past two seasons, eight games in total, while Iloka missed four games this past season, the first time he has missed time due to an injury.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Iloka has a considerable size advantage over Gipson, who is 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds.
According to Stripe Hype, Iloka is more important to the Bengals’ future success than another potential Browns’ free agent target, wide receiver Marvin Jones:
"George Iloka, at 6-foot-4, is one of the most–if not the most–physically gifted safeties in the NFL. He’s elite in terms of preventing touchdowns, and he’s improving when it comes to forcing turnovers. A stout run defender who can make huge plays, tackle and even lay the wood on occasion, Iloka is an underrated difference-maker for the Bengals defense, a unit which finished 2015 as the NFL’s second-best scoring defense."
"Iloka, on the other hand, would be a player worth overpaying. His size and cover skills are attributes that simply aren’t easy to replace. With Dre Kirkpatrick struggling in coverage, Iloka has been a security blanket over the top, preventing long touchdown passes with ease. And on a defense with severe tackling issues, Iloka has been as sure as it gets."
Pro Football Focus also thinks highly of Iloka, ranking him as the No. 3 safety to hit free agency (two spots ahead of Gipson):
"A three-year starter for the Bengals, the former fifth-round pick is one of the most complete safeties hitting free agency this offseason. His run defense grade over the last two seasons is +4.7, while his coverage grade over the same span is +7.2. Iloka has the size (6-foot-4-inches, 225 pounds) that some teams will covet to match up with tight ends, even if he wasn’t used often in that role in Cincinnati."
The free agent market for safeties is a bit thin, however, meaning that the Browns will have competition for Iloka from any team looking for a safety and with cash to spend.
While their first preference should be to retain their own players in free agency, if that doesn’t work out with Gipson then Iloka could be an attractive option for the Browns. He knows the division, knows head coach Hue Jackson and would represent the opportunity to weaken a division rival.
That is a trifecta that may be hard for the Browns to pass up.