With free agency set to open March 11, we'll shine the spotlight on the Bears' free agents and examine each player's likelihood to return, starting with cornerback Charles Tillman.
Age (As of Sept 1, 2014): 33
NFL seasons logged (with Bears): 11 (11)
2013 stats: Started 8 games before tearing triceps against Detroit. Had 41 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 3 INTs and 3 forced fumbles.
Quotable: "I don't think there is anything wrong with a multiyear deal. As soon as you get over 30, everyone starts to talk about you being old. Some players perform better when they are older; some don't. I am having fun playing football right now. I am continuing to prepare to play at a high level like I have in previous seasons." – to the Chicago Tribune, 1/31
“Obviously, it makes the deal probably a little sweeter just because it’s a former head coach. You do know the system, you know the scheme. … I think it helps it from a standpoint that it’s a former coach, a guy that you liked, a guy that you’d been with for 10 years. It’s cool. But it’s free agency. I’m open to whoever.” – to the Chicago Sun-Times, 1/31 about Lovie Smith and the Buccaneers
“In a perfect world. I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I will guarantee that.” – to WSCR AM-670 on 1/29
“Chicago has been great. Chicago is great. They've got great owners, great fans, great teammates. This is a great team, it's a great organization. Eleven years here is truly an honor.” – to reporters on 12/30
Fit with the Bears: Whether or not the Bears are in a 4-3, 3-4 or hybrid scheme, we should expect more man/press coverage in next year’s defense. Mel Tucker can mold his “D” and isn’t obligated to run Lovie Smith’s Cover-2, plus the man coverage will better complement the different fronts.
Can Tillman play in that style? Arguably the best corner in team history has shown in his career he can lock down opposing receivers (see: Calvin Johnson) when healthy. However, re-signing Tillman doesn’t mesh with Phil Emery’s desire to “get younger” on defense.
Financials: Regardless of age, most players want more than a one-year deal, and as he stated to the Tribune, Tillman isn’t any different. He earned a base salary of $7.95 million last year and won’t get that again. Champ Bailey signed a four-year, $43 million deal when he was 32, and that’s at the top of the scale. The Bears just committed a pretty nice contract at the position to Tim Jennings ($22.4 million with $11.815 million guaranteed), and would be hard pressed to put together another multi-year, lucrative deal with needs at every other position on defense.
Best guess: Before his knee started to give him problems early on, Tillman looked as good as his All-Pro 2012 season to begin the 2013 campaign. Age and durability are the question marks, and the Bears have so many question marks in the front seven and at safety. They have Isaiah Frey on the roster with Jennings, and could go cheaper and bring back Zack Bowman, who played well in Tillman’s place, along with a rookie or two.
This may be a situation similar to last offseason when a star Bears player was up for a new contract, just with this time (probably) with less tension. Emery could offer Tillman a team-friendly, one- or two-year contract, which would force Peanut to choose to test the open market or stay in Chicago.
And when Tillman says he will retire with the Bears, that has no bearing on 2014, that just means he'll sign a one-day contract to retire as a Bear when the time comes. If he re-signs, though, he won't need that extra contract, he can truly finish with the team that took a chance on him 11 years ago.