With the offseason in full swing the Bengals are now up to their neck in free agent decisions. The most high profile and obvious free agent concerns are centered on the wide receiver position with both Marvin Jones’ and Mohamed Sanu’s contracts expiring.
Near equal importance to the Jones and Sanu controversy would be the questions surrounding the Bengals secondary. The Bengals have two cornerbacks, Adams Jones and Leon Hall,
It would be logical for the Bengals to retain Adam Jones and let Leon Hall either test free agency or retire. As far as the safeties are concerned retaining both Nelson and Iloka would be ideal but unlikely. That fact begs the question, who is more critical to the Bengals.
as well as both of their starting safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka not under active contract. It would be logical for the Bengals to retain Adam Jones and let Leon Hall either test free agency or retire. As far as the safeties are concerned retaining both Nelson and Iloka would be ideal but unlikely. That fact begs the question, who is more critical to the Bengals.
There are a lot of factors to consider when determining which player will be the best fit for the Bengals in the future. Both Nelson and Iloka have great athleticism and have proven to be top performers for the Bengals. In order to make a definitive decision several metrics must be considered including statistics, price tag, age, and replicability. Using these criteria as a guide Cincinnati should be able to make an intelligent free agent decision.
Reggie Nelson #20 FS
Reggie Nelson posted the best season of his career in 2015. He compiled 77 tackles and a league leading eight interception. These number allowed Nelson to claim his first Pro- Bowl appearance though he was not able to play due to injury. Aside from this past season, Nelson has been a solid performer since the Bengals acquired him during the 2010 season in a trade with Jacksonville. During those years he has posted a minimum of 54 combined tackles and two interceptions. It’s clear that Nelson has been a solid performer and leader for the Bengals Defense. He even acted as a captain for the Bengals during the 2015 season. His intangible qualities add even more to his value and make him a hard player to let go of.
The largest issues concerning Nelson are his age, health, and price tag. Nelson is 32 years old and is coming off of anankle injury suffered in the playoff loss to the Steelers. Nelson will likely pursue a contract that is a significant amount more than the $4.75 million he received last season. Though for his age he can realistically expect to get no more than $5 million a year at the most. Nelson has proved to be a top performer for the Bengals, but with his back up, Shawn Williams, seeing significant playing time and performing well, he is replaceable. Considering these factors, Nelson’s future with the being may be bleak.
George Iloka # 43 SS
George Iloka took a step backwards this past season. He missed four games due to injury and his stats suffered accordingly. Iloka was only able to post 47 combined tackles and one interception. It was a disappointing showing coming after the breakout season he had in 2014. Aside from his injury in 2015, concerns around Iloka could be related to his potential price tag. Though Iloka’s numbers were down his skills and abilities make him an alluring target and a player that many teams would be willing to pay top dollar for. Based on an average of other top strong safeties, Iloka would likely be looking to sign a contract with average of $6.5 million a season. This may be too much for Cincinnati to pay without consistent performance data.
The upside with Iloka stems from his physical stature and athletic ability. Iloka stands 6’4”, weighs 225 lbs, and packs a monster punch as a tackler. He has good instincts and is quick off the ball. A healthy Iloka is comparable to a Kam Chancellor type of player, meaning that he is tough, physical, and a force on the field. This being said, Iloka has the potential to be a true game changer and perennial Pro Bowler for the Bengals. In addition the Bengals don’t currently have a logical replacement for Iloka. Though free agency and the draft offer an opportunity to replace him, at this point there is no one available to fill his void.
It is a tough decision to make for the Bengals. Like mentioned previously, in a “pie in the sky world” Cincinnati would be able to re-sign both Nelson and Iloka and not damage their ability to retain other key free agents. Therefore a decision must be made as to who is the higher priority to be re-signed.
Given the metrics used to evaluate each player, an edge can be given to each player in certain regards. In statistics and price tag, Reggie Nelson has a clear advantage over George Iloka. Nelson’s resume is longer and more distinguished than Iloka and the price would be significantly lower. The pendulum swings the other way when comes to age and replicability. George Iloka is seven years younger and does not have a viable replacement on the current roster.
Considering this split in metrics, the edge goes to George Iloka. This decision is based purely on the fact that he should have a better return on investment throughout the life of his contract and pay dividends for Cincinnati. Reggie Nelson has been a great asset for the Bengals but he is definitely on the back side of his career. The Bengals need to focus on how to improve and not just for next season but for the foreseeable future.