Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman will remain with the Bears after signing a one-year contract with the only team he’s played for since entering the NFL in 2003.
A free agent for the first time in his career, Tillman visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but opted to return to the Bears for a 12th season, agreeing to a new deal last Friday.
Tillman, who turned 33 last month, is eager to rebound from an injury-plagued 2013 season. After missing only seven games the previous nine years, he sat out one contest last season with a knee injury and the final seven with a torn triceps that required surgery.
Despite playing in only eight games, Tillman still recorded 52.5 tackles, three interceptions, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
Widely considered the best cornerback in Bears history, Tillman owns team records with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception TDs and 675 interception return yards.
Since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick from Louisiana-Lafayette, Tillman is the only NFL player with more than 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. During that span he is second in forced fumbles, tied for fifth in interceptions, fifth in interception return yards and tied for second in interception return touchdowns.
Tillman’s 36 career interceptions are the most by a Bears cornerback and third most overall behind safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37).
Tillman’s contributions off the field have been just as valuable. He was recently named the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, primarily due to his work with the Cornerstone Foundation. Since creating the organization in 2005, Tillman’s efforts have impacted over one million children and raised more than $1 million.
The foundation initially provided children with educational opportunities and resources to excel in the classroom. But after Tillman’s three-month-old daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and received a life-saving heart transplant in 2008, the mission was changed to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children.
“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said in a statement. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago and we're excited for that to continue.”
Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh applauded the Bears’ decision to retain Tillman, writing: “No other offseason signing will go as far as Tillman’s in starting to make the Bears defense whole again. Losing Tillman would have been a Peanut Punch to the gut. The more Tillman stays on the field, the closer the defense gets to respectability.”
Tillman will be part of a revamped defense in 2014. While the Bears also re-signed cornerback Tim Jennings and linebacker D.J. Williams, they’ve added five free agents from other teams: defensive ends Lamarr Houston (Raiders) and Willie Young (Lions), linebacker Jordan Senn (Panthers) and safeties Ryan Mundy (Giants) and M.D. Jennings (Packers).