The safety position has definitely been one that fans in Dallas have wanted to see upgraded for quite a while. Well, the Cowboys took a step forward in doing that back in March by signing veteran Safety George Iloka to a 1-year deal.
It’s not like the Cowboys didn’t try during the first wave of free agency to get a safety. Earl Thomas was the prize a lot of people wanted to see in Dallas, but with an asking price of 14 million a year, those dreams slowly faded. Clayton Geathers came in for a visit but eventually resigned with the Colts. Eric Berry came to the facility as well, while it seemed nice, health concerns caused him to leave without a deal.
George Iloka isn’t the “sexy” choice per se for Cowboys fans, but that shouldn’t bother them. Why? Who are the Cowboys best players for the most part? Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, Dak Prescott, and Jaylon Smith to name a few. We do they all have in common? They were all drafted guys. Everything that glitters isn’t gold, except hitting on players in the draft, and the Cowboys are doing that better than most teams in the league right now.
This deal financially was also a huge steal for the Cowboys. A max cap hit of 735,000. A base salary of 930,000 with 210,000 guaranteed and a 90,000 dollar signing bonus, who wouldn’t take those numbers for a 7-year veteran? Adding value to your roster while also saving money is smart business by the organization’s front office.
Kris Richard loves long defensive backs, and at 6’4 226 pounds Iloka definitely fits that mold. The Cowboys now have a versatile safety with the skills to play on either side, but his role in Dallas will be at strong safety. This will upgrade the position with a better player while putting Jeff Heath in more of a special teams role if Iloka takes the reigns as expected.
However, that hasn’t gotten off to the best start so far in the offseason. During OTA’s and minicamp, he got the second team reps, as Heath would be on the first team opposite Xavier Woods. Nonetheless, he’s ready for the challenge of learning a new scheme.
“It’s a different scheme from what I’ve played my first seven years of my career and I just wanted to get into this system, first and foremost cause it was a different way in how they use the strong safety position. I was 20 yards back in the other defenses I’ve been in, this one has you more toward the box and those are things I like to do so that’s really why I came here,” Iloka said.
He’s not a ball hawking safety like a lot of fans wanted, only tallying 9 interceptions in 7 years. But he doesn’t get fooled by play action, is a sure tackler and doesn’t give up explosive plays. The biggest benefit is that the Cowboys have filled a need with a veteran for cheap. This gave the Cowboys the flexibility to not reach in the draft and take the best players available, just like the signings of Randall Cobb, Christian Covington, and Kerry Hyder. Smart and savvy business by the Cowboys with this one.
Now as training camp approaches Iloka knows he has work to do in order to crack the starting lineup. Every practice, every snap, and every film session is critical going forward. I expect him to make the final 53 man roster even if for some reason he doesn’t beat out Heath for the starting role. Even with that being said, the goal is playing time. Eyes will definitely be on the strong safety battle in Oxnard.