Vikings sign safety George Iloka to 1-year deal

EAGAN, Minn. -- George Iloka looked down at his watch to recap how the past 10 hours of his life had played out.

He'd been a free agent for two days when he got a call from Mike Zimmer late Tuesday night. The man who drafted him in 2012 when he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati wanted Iloka to join his defense in Minnesota.

Given the time crunch between now and the start of the season, Iloka's familiarity with Zimmer's scheme was a big part of why he chose to sign with the Vikings on a one-year deal. A source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the deal was for the veteran's minimum -- $790,000, plus $90,000 to sign.

"Obviously how late into camp it is ... doesn't give you much time to pick up other systems and playbooks and things like that," Iloka said Wednesday. "I think I'm a smart player. I could. But obviously knowing the system here and knowing Zim and kind of what he wants made it a little easier."

The seventh-year safety was released by the Bengals on Sunday, a move that came as a surprise with the objective to clear salary-cap space. Iloka had a $6.2 million cap hit in 2018 and cleared $5.6 million in salary cap space with his departure.

The news caught Iloka off guard, delivered via a phone call from his agent while he was sitting down to eat with his wife.

"That's the business," Iloka said. "That's what we kind of sign up for. Things happen. End of the day you're just a number for the most part.

"... I thank Cincinnati for the opportunity they gave me. Unfortunately it couldn't work out. Wish it would've turned out differently in terms of how they released me. I'm not dwelling on that now. I'm in a good situation here. I'm where I'm wanted. I'm where I want to be and I'm ready to help this team out however I can."

The Vikings got a second chance at landing Iloka after missing on him the last time he was a free agent in 2016. The safety flew to the Twin Cities at 7 a.m. Wednesday, agreed to terms of his contract and participated in practice hours later.

Iloka spent most of the day with the second-team defense and stood in for some reps with Harrison Smith during the install period. The former Bengals safety said he felt familiar with the scheme, estimating about "80 percent" of the calls were similar to what he ran under Zimmer in Cincinnati.

Among Minnesota's top priorities this offseason was boosting its depth at safety behind one of the league's top duos in Smith and Andrew Sendejo.

Zimmer noted Iloka isn't coming in to replace anyone. Iloka, a five-year starter with the Bengals, reiterated that point, repeatedly discussing being a depth factor when asked about what he expects his role to become.

The safety joins a defense that was No. 2 against the pass, first in points allowed and first in total defense last season. Iloka is coming off a season in which he had a career-high 79 tackles, five passes defended and an interception.

In addition to Iloka, Minnesota also has Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse as reserve safeties. What capacity Zimmer decides to utilize Iloka -- as someone who could push to see time at strong safety, as a hybrid safety/linebacker in sub packages, etc. -- will be determined down the line.

"We've got some big guys in there so we can use them in some different ways," Zimmer said. "Even on the goal line, because we're using bigger guys down there. Honestly, we're just trying to add good football players and we'll let it sort out at the end."

The addition of the 28-year-old safety helps stabilize Minnesota's depth at the position now and potentially for the future. Sendejo carries a $5.5 million cap hit in 2019 and is a free agent after next season.

Iloka said he doesn't want to be a "distraction" coming in this late in the preseason and had plans to dive into the defense with coaches on Wednesday to get up to speed in anticipation of playing on Friday.

"For me, I just wanted to sign a one-year deal, help this team out, and we'll see what the future holds," he said.