George Iloka has started 44 games before his 26th birthday.
As free agency opened Wednesday, the Bengals split on their pair of prized 2012 fifth-round draft picks.
Starting safety George Iloka, the last pick in the round, has agreed to terms to stay and sources say it is a 5-year, $30 million deal. But starting wide receiver Marvin Jones, taken with the pick before Iloka, has left for Detroit according to multiple reports.
But they got a huge get when they fought back the charms of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and retained Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones on a three-year deal early Wednesday evening. With Iloka counting about $6 million against this year's cap and Jones $8 million, it was about a $14 million hit to keep together most of a secondary that was a big part of the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense.
"We've got unfinished business," Jones said. "I'm content with the deal. This is home . . . I love Zim. He really treated me well through this, but this is the place where I know."
Iloka, 25, has already started 44 games and has emerged as a consistent force in the middle. It's believed he secured $18 million in the first three years, second most ever by a safety next to Donte Whitner.
He and Jones are expected to sign Thursday and appear at a Paul Brown Stadium news conference. Veteran backup tackle Eric Winston has yet to sign but he tweeted he's coming back soon after free agency opened at 4 p.m. Backup linebacker Emmanuel Lamur followed Marvin Jones to the NFC North when The St. Paul-Pioneer Press reported a reunion with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
The Iloka move has to please defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who spent Wednesday at the University of Alabama pro day. Last month at the NFL scouting combine Guenther spoke glowingly of Iloka's approach to the system.
"He understands all our adjustments. He's real, real smart," Guenther said. "He s been there since we put it in and he sits right in the front row like I'm sitting with you guys and he asks all the questions and he's good and he's accountable and all those things. If we get him back, that would be awesome. If we don't, that's good for him. It's tough to find those guys. Particularly in, where did we get him? The fifth round? Good pick."
Iloka said from Miami, where he trains during the offseason, that 2012 Draft Day was a big reason why he returned.
"Most importantly they're the ones that took a chance on me coming out of the draft," Iloka said. "So it's like we've been together from the get-go. The money worked out and I'm just glad to be back."
Iloka also pointed to his teammates and the system as other reasons for staying with an emphasis on keeping the same playbook.
"I know the guys. I'm comfortable with them. We have a good locker room with different characters," Iloka said. "A lot of my game is I pride myself on knowing the playbook and being sound and discipline." What that means for the other starting safety, 32-year-old Reggie Nelson, remains to be seen. The Bengals would like him back, but they went for youth first.
They lost Marvin Jones to a Lions offense scrambling to replace Calvin Johnson and with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu also expected to move, the Bengals are looking to surround the Pro Bowl tandem of wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert with at least another outside receiver. Jones emerged as a productive running mate for Green and is coming off a 65-catch season that accounted for 12.6 yards per and four touchdowns.
Reports have Sanu staring at $7 million per year in Atlanta, where he's scheduled to visit, a number the Bengals wouldn't consider after he played about 60 percent of the snaps and had 49 targets. But the Bengals do have to find a way to replace the combined 98 catches and 1,210 yards.
The Bengals have only three wide-receiver catches from last season under contract in veteran Brandon Tate's two and rookie slot receiver Mario Alford's one. James Wright had five catches as a rookie in 2014 and he looked to be emerging as a promising No. 3 receiver candidate. Unlike Alford, he can play both outside and inside, but he's coming back from micro fracture knee surgery after missing all of the 2015 season.
Initial reports had the Jones deal at $8 million per year, a number that the Bengals believed to be comfortable with and were in range with it. But they couldn't offer him the same amount of chances as a potential No. 1 target now teamed with Golden Tate and not Green and Eifert. They were so in sync with the numbers that they thought they were close to a deal Tuesday night.
According to NFL Network, the deal is for $40 million, $17 million guaranteed and a $9 million average in the first three years. That's a page out of the Bengals book, which typically front loads money and has declining salaries on the back end.
Jones, who turns 26 next week, had his break-out season in 2013 with 10 touchdowns before missing all of the 2014 season with foot problems.
The Bengals are going to make sure they get a third-round pick in compensation for the Jones deal in the 2017 draft, so they won't be making any strikes on unrestricted free agents. They're still focused on retaining their own, such as Adam Jones, Nelson, and backup linebacker Vincent Rey.
The deal for Winston, 32, points more and more to the Bengals moving on from right tackle Andre Smith, a free agent they can replace with Cedric Ogbuehi, last year's first-round pick.
"It's an organization I've grown comfortable with," said Winston, the NFL Players Association president. "I've got great respect for Marvin (Lewis) and ownership. It's a good place for me."
Lamur, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regular-season finale, had run out of room on the roster as his playing time dwindled during the season. Lamur, who started twice at SAM behind A.J. Hawk, played about 31 percent of the snaps, largely in nickel on passing downs.