EAGAN, Minn -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer added another former player to his defense.
Veteran safety George Iloka, who was released by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, signed with Minnesota on Wednesday morning. Iloka, entering his seventh NFL season, first became a starter in Cincinnati when Zimmer was the Bengals' defensive coordinator.
"George is a very smart guy," Zimmer said after the signing. "He helped a lot in the past. I can't remember if it was his rookie year or second year, he ended up starting.
"He's very smart. He's a good tackler. He's going to be where he supposed to be all the time. He pretty much knows a lot of the things that we're doing. Most of the calls we went through today he knew probably 85 percent of them."
Iloka, 28, had a combined 79 tackles last season while starting all 16 games. He had four tackles for loss, one interception and five pass deflections.
"I know coach Zim, have a good relationship with him," Iloka said. "He called me on the phone and we spoke. I’m comfortable with the system, the playbook. And this is a good team. They were real close last year. They were on the brink of making it to the Super Bowl. I’m just here to help this team out anyway I can. My relationship with Zim, this facility, the kind of team that they have made it a no-brainer."
The Vikings had interest in signing Iloka in 2016 before he stayed in Cincinnati with a five-year, $30 million contract. Reports says Iloka was released in a cost-cutting move on Sunday. He had three years left on his contract.
"That caught everybody off guard," Iloka said. "But I’m over it now. It is what it is. That caught a lot of people off guard, definitely. Just sitting down eating with my wife and got a phone call from my agent. But that’s the business. That’s what we kind of signed up for. Things happen.
"End of the day, you’re just a number, for the most part. And that’s that. So I look forward to this opportunity right here. I thank Cincinnati for the opportunity they gave me. Unfortunately it couldn’t work out. I wish it would’ve turned out differently in terms of how they released me, but hey, I’m not dwelling on that now. I’m in a good situation here. I’m where I’m wanted."
Minnesota returns 10 starters from its top-ranked defense last season, including both safeties. Harrison Smith was a first-team All-Pro last season. Andrew Sendejo has started at least 13 games each of the last three seasons.
Sendejo, who grew into the position after being a special teams player, had 77 tackles and two interceptions last season. Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris were the two safety backups on the most-recent depth chart with Jack Tocho and Tray Matthews on the third string looking to make their mark.
"They are doing good," Zimmer said of the backup safeties. "This wasn't a move to replace anyone. This was a move to get as many good players as we can. He became available so we were fortunate."