For the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys have tried to fill a need with a cheap veteran option in free agency. They have had a string of disappointments with these moves and, though it’s still early, there are concerns that Safety George Iloka may be the latest failed free agent signing.
When Iloka was signed last March, it was generally perceived that he was here to push for a starting job or, at worst, be a highly-experienced backup with position flexibility. George has 79 career starts, which is more than Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods combined, and he has intriguing physical traits at 6’4″ and the athleticism to play either free or strong safety.
But so far through the spring and summer practice reports, Iloka hasn’t been standing out. There’s no indication he’s pushing Heath for a starting job, and fourth-year prospect Darian Thompson is the reserve player making noise.
If George Iloka doesn’t start separating himself soon, he may wind up not even making this roster.
The ideal mix at safety, and most other positions, is to have your starters, a solid backup, and then a developmental player. So far, Darian Thompson is distinguishing himself as a potential backup. Kavon Frazier and rookie Donovan Wilson are also in the mix, offering youth and upside that Iloka, at 29, no longer can.
There is still a whole preseason, and plenty more practices, for Iloka to change perceptions. But the silence around him right now is troubling.
Bad Free Agent History
It’s concerning that the Cowboys aren’t hitting on their free agent gambles. This trend started in 2016 with Cedric Thornton, who was brought in to upgrade defensive tackle but then couldn’t even crack the starting lineup. He hung around as backup that year, but then was released at final cuts in 2017.
Also in 2017, Nolan Carroll was signed to replace exiting starters at cornerback. He wasn’t impressive in the summer and still managed to start, but then got hurt in the second game of the season. Dallas didn’t even bother keeping him at that point, releasing Carroll in October of that same year.
Last year, Allen Hurns was supposed to come in and fill the WR1 void left by Dez Bryant. But Hurns never established himself in the offense, prompting Dallas to eventually trade for Amari Cooper. Hurns fell down the depth chart, not evening beating Michael Gallup for the #2 spot, and wound up getting released just a few weeks ago.
To be fair, these players were available and cheap for some of the same reasons they didn’t work out. They were risks, and unfortunately Dallas is on a bad run of busting on these gambles.
Will George Iloka be the next failed attempt to add a bargain player? We can’t say that for sure just yet, but right now there are some concering signs.
Hopefully, for the team’s sake and the player’s, things turn around soon.