When George Iloka signed a 5-year, $30 million dollar contract extension with the Bengals in March, he checked off one of his goals as a professional football player.
"I think every player's goal when he gets to the NFL is to win the Super Bowl and get paid," George told me. "Honestly, that's everyone's goal."
One down, one to go. He's got the contract in hand, but lacks the ring on his finger.
"The Super Bowl is the highest team accolade that you can achieve and that's everyone's goal on this team," said Iloka. "When you're done with this game you want some type of hardware that you can keep for the rest of your life. Trophies and rings are with you forever."
Iloka is entering his fifth NFL season and the long-term contract extension was a definitive statement that the Bengals view him as a defensive cornerstone in their efforts to win a championship.
"George is a young player with still a big upside," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He has size and length and speed and we expect his contributions to keep growing."
Iloka has started 47 of a possible 51 games over the past three seasons and has a skill set that allows the Bengals to be flexible in how he's used.
"Safeties are increasingly valuable in today's NFL, and he's one who can play centerfield or in the box," wrote Andy Benoit from Sports Illustrated's MMQB website. "At 6'4", 225 pounds, and with arms so long he can practically tie his shoes without bending over, Iloka has the innate physical traits to be elite."
The 26-year-old will be the Bengals most experienced safety following the departure of NFL interception co-leader Reggie Nelson as a free agent.
"I think now that Reggie is gone I'll try to do a better job of communicating and making sure that everybody is on the same page," said Iloka. "I've been in this system for four or five years and if I don't know it by now I'm doing something wrong. So I've been trying to communicate better, but I'm still trying to be myself. If there's a time where I need to be vocal I'll do that, but I'm not going to be something that I'm not."
One thing that hasn't changed is how the former fifth round draft pick views himself.
"I went to a small school and think I was a two-star recruit coming out of high school," said Iloka. "It was actually zero stars – they only gave me two because I committed to Boise State and they said, 'I guess he's decent; give him two stars.'
"I just have to keep that mentality and continue to build on it and get better because I don't think I am where I can be. The only person that can get me there is me. I have to put the work in to get where I want to be."
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