CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals signed starting safety George Iloka to a five-year, $30 million deal on Thursday, the first significant move to try to keep the core of their playoff team intact.
They also signed deals with linebacker Vincent Rey and offensive tackle Eric Winston, who were among their 13 unrestricted free agents. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones agreed to a three-year deal that could be signed on Friday.
The secondary was a main concern heading into free agency with both starting safeties — Iloka and Reggie Nelson — and cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jones unrestricted. The defense gave up the second-fewest points in the league last season, when Cincinnati tied the club record for wins with a 12-4 mark.
They lost in the first round of the playoffs for the fifth year in a row in part because of a personal foul on Jones that moved Pittsburgh in range for a winning field goal in the final minute.
“I definitely wanted to come back because I wanted to be part of that group that got over the hump,” Iloka said, referring to playoff losses. “I’m kind of invested in it emotionally. After last year I’m like man, I know they’re going to get over the hump one day and I might not be part of it. I want to be part of it when we get over that mountain.”
Rey, who led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons, signed a three-year deal on Thursday. Winston, the head of the players’ union, got a one-year deal after playing in 13 games and starting two last season when Andre Smith was injured.
So far, the Bengals have lost two of their top receivers as free agents. Marvin Jones agreed to a deal with Detroit, and Mohammed Sanu is headed to Atlanta. Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur also agreed to a deal with Minnesota.
The Bengals have a history of being cautious in free agency. Iloka, a fifth-round pick in 2012, talked to the Bengals in August about an extension but couldn’t get an agreement. He had a visit with Detroit set up when the Bengals made their offer.
“They have their way of doing things around here,” said Iloka, who will get $18 million over the first three years of the deal. “I’d say up until a few days ago, things didn’t heat up. I had no clue if they even wanted me. They’re silent about their business and they handle it how they handle it. Things heated up real quick.”
Re-signing Jones also was a priority. The 32-year-old cornerback is coming off his finest season, emerging as the Bengals’ best in coverage last season. He also was a centerpiece of two nasty games against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium, both of them Pittsburgh victories.
“He’s the older guy, he’s the passion, the leader,” Iloka said. “You need a guy like that.”