With Charles Tillman set to hit the open market for the first time in his NFL career when free agency begins March 11, the Bears cornerback is certain about only one thing.
“My gut is I will be on an NFL team next year,” Tillman said during a recent appearance on WSCR-AM 670’s “McNeil and Spiegel Show.”
Tillman has spent his entire 11-year NFL career with the Bears, becoming arguably the best cornerback in franchise history. He would like to remain with the team, but isn’t sure how his situation will play out.
“Everyone knows how the process works,” Tillman said. “It’s business. If I’m here, sweet; if I’m not, that’s the business. There are no hard feelings. I love Chicago. Chicago has been nothing but great; great owners, great organization and great teammates. I couldn’t ask for any better teammates.
“I’m happy, but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Maybe it’s for the best, I don’t know. It’s not my call, but we’ll see what happens.”
Since being selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2003 draft out of Louisiana Lafayette, Tillman has become the franchise’s all-time leader with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs and 675 interception return yards. Since he entered the league, Tillman is the only NFL player with more than 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles.
Asked about Tillman’s future with the Bears last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, general manager Phil Emery said: “Certainly Charles knows we want him back and we’ll just work through it. It’s a step-by-step process.”
“I know they want me back,” Tillman said. “I think it’s just a matter of finances and everything working out. I’m just trying to get all that taken care of. If it all works out, sweet, I don’t have to move. If it doesn’t, I’m used to moving. I’ve done it my whole life being a military brat, so we’ll pick up and we’ll go elsewhere.”
Since creating the Cornerstone Foundation in 2005, Tillman has been just as valuable to the Chicago community as he has been to the Bears defense. His efforts have impacted the lives of more than one million children and raised over $1 million.
On Feb. 1, Tillman won the prestigious NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the only league honor that recognizes a player’s community service as well as his playing excellence.
Emery opened his press conference at the Combine by congratulating Tillman, saying: “We all celebrate in the things that Charles has done and [it’s] a much deserved award for him.”
Head coach Marc Trestman also mentioned the award when asked about the possibility of the Bears re-signing Tillman, saying: “Charles is an extremely unique guy. He should be really, from the standpoint that he is Man of the Year in the National Football League No. 1.
“It just goes to his character and personality and his leadership skills, and he’s a terrific football player. He played very well certainly when he was healthy, so he’s extremely important.”
After missing only seven games the previous nine seasons due to injuries, Tillman sat out eight in 2013, missing one contest with a knee injury and the final seven with a torn triceps. He expects to recover completely in 2014, but also said that he doesn’t want to play football forever.
“When I first came in the league, [I thought] I’m playing until I can’t walk no more,” Tillman said. “But I’ve accomplished some things and I’ve seen some things and there’s life after football. I want to walk when I’m 35, when I’m 40. I want to play soccer with my kids and I want to play basketball with them. That’ll suck if I can’t walk or shoot a jump shot or play soccer or hockey or whatever my children are doing. I actually want to be able to help coach them and participate with them.”