The first memory most Chicago Bears fans have of Charles Tillman is likely his rookie-year interception against the Minnesota Vikings, an end-zone play in which he ripped the ball away from Randy Moss, who was in his prime, to seal a Bears victory. It was then that Tillman made his presence felt as not only a quality shutdown cornerback but also arguably the best turnover machine in the NFL.
For the past 11 years, Tillman has been a model of consistency for the Monsters of the Midway. He ranks third in franchise history in interceptions (36), and first in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (8) and defensive return touchdowns (9). Since entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick out of Louisiana Lafayette in 2003, Tillman is among the NFL's top 10 in interceptions (fifth), interception return yards (fifth), interception return touchdowns (second), forced fumbles (42, second) and passes defended (133, fifth).
Tillman will test the free-agent market for the first time in his career this offseason. Let's break down the pros and cons of re-signing the veteran.
In coverage, Tillman has played his best when matched up against the top receivers in the game. Yearly, "Peanut" is one of the only defenders in the league who can keep Detroit's Calvin Johnson in check. Against the run, he's as aggressive as any cornerback in the league and he's a team leader in the locker room.
Like fine wine, Tillman has been better with age, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl since turning 30. His penchant for turnovers is unmatched in the NFL. His timely interceptions and forced fumbles – affectionately knows as the "Peanut Punch" amongst Bears fans – have been turning points in countless Bears victories.
Tillman's skills have not diminished. If he stays healthy, he'll continue to be a stalwart in Chicago's secondary and is worth a short-term deal.
Tillman dealt with numerous injuries last season. He nursed ankle and knee injuries throughout most of the campaign and didn't finish a game for more than month during the middle of the season. A triceps injury suffered in Week 10 finally ended his season.
He turns 32 in a few weeks, so it's going to be tough for the Bears to dish out a large contract to an aging player whose body appeared to break down last season. When healthy, Tillman can still play but considering how often he was injured last year, it's tough to foresee him playing a full slate of games in any upcoming season.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?
If Tillman wants to return, the Bears should welcome him back with open arms. He was hobbled last year, which is concerning for a player of his age, but you have to go back to 2004 to find a season in which he missed more than two contests. In no way is he injury prone and he was still effective even playing on one leg last year.
Like we discussed in our evaluation of free-agent Henry Melton, there have been rumors that Tillman might join Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. A recent report by NFL.com stated Tillman plans on testing the free-agent market. While that was a bit obvious for "breaking" news, it does show that Tillman is leaving his options open.
Due to his age and recent injuries, Tillman won't cost anywhere near the $6.1 million he made last season. If he's willing to return to Chicago, where he's played his entire 11-year career, at a discounted price, GM Phil Emery shouldn't hesitate to re-sign him. If Tillman wants to move on from the Windy City, then the Bears will have to let him walk, as they aren't in a financial position to outbid another suitor.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.