A league source said Iloka was stunned by the move, which he was told was for financial reasons. Iloka, a 2012 fifth-round pick out of Boise State, has been the Bengals' starting safety since 2013 and had three seasons remaining on his contract.
Iloka addressed his release in a tweet Sunday.
Thankful for the opportunity Cincinnati. To my former teammates, best of luck and stay healthy, you guys have something special brewing there.— George Iloka (@George_iloka) August 19, 2018
He was set to count $6.2 million against the salary cap this season. The Bengals will save $5.6 million against the cap with the move because Iloka was released after June 1.
Although the move seemed like a stunner because the Bengals tend to let their veterans play out their contracts, it became clear after last season that the team would like to keep its options open. A team source said the Bengals weren't happy with Iloka's play in 2017, and they went hard after free agent Kurt Coleman when the Carolina Panthers released him on Feb. 26.
The Bengals met with Coleman and his representatives at the NFL scouting combine that week and made him a competitive offer. When Coleman ultimately signed with the New Orleans Saints, it seemed possible that the Bengals were content to stick with Iloka for another season.
However, it was not a good sign for Iloka when the Bengals drafted safety Jessie Bates out of Wake Forest in the second round this year. The Bengals subbed in Bates with the first team during their first two preseason games and were swapping him in and out with Iloka while the starters were still on the field against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday.
"He could end up being the guy back there real quick. You have to keep urging Jessie to move forward," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Aug. 14.
Bates' play and salary ($899,603 against the cap in 2018) made Iloka expendable, especially with the team looking to free up space to sign new long-term contracts for defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
This is the third significant veteran the Bengals have parted ways with this year, including cornerback Adam Jones and wide receiver Brandon LaFell.