Tillman Needs to Get Paid, Too

In the salary-capped world of the NFL, it is very difficult to keep two dependable cornerbacks for the long haul. The Bears showed former Pro-Bowler Nathan Vasher some love by signing him to a $28 million extension on Monday, but did they indirectly say goodbye to Charles Tillman? Peanut's contract is up after 2007, and he would be a hot commodity on the free agent market.

Charles Tillman may not necessarily be a fan of the band Simple Minds, but there's one song in particular on the soundtrack for The Breakfast Club he might be listening to right about now.

"Don't you forget about me. Don't, don't, don't don't."

After hearing the news that his partner in crime, Nathan Vasher, signed a five-year, $28 million extension with $14 million in guaranteed money on Monday, Tillman is hoping that GM Jerry Angelo hasn't blown all his cornerback cash just yet.

When interviewed for the cover story in the February issue of Bear Report, Tillman expressed his desire to remain in Chicago.

"I'm very comfortable here," he said. "I like it here. I bought my first house here. It's the first team I've ever played for. I like it. They treat me nice."

2006 was arguably the best season of Tillman's four-year tenure as a Midway Monster. Although he missed the final two games of regular season action because of a bad back, he was in on 81 tackles and equaled his career best with 5 interceptions. At 26 years old and now fully grown into his prototypical 6'1", 196-pound frame, Tillman should be entering his prime.

Former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera felt that Tillman got snubbed for the Pro Bowl last season.

"I thought Charles had an exceptional year," Rivera said on Dec. 20, shortly after the invitations to Hawaii were announced. "I thought he rebounded very well from last year and has done nothing but get better. He's made a number of plays [and] has played extremely well. Especially for a guy that we keep putting him on the No. 1 receivers. He just keeps responding every week."

Although Vasher does have one Pro Bowl selection to his credit and more career INTs than Tillman (16 to 14) in fewer games played (46 to 53), many experts believed it was Tillman who would be the first to have his contract extended and not Vasher. Head coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2 defense caters to bigger corners who can be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage and are good tacklers in run support. Rarely are they asked to run stride for stride with streaking wideouts down the field, so the need for the proverbial 'shutdown corner' is lessened.

Vasher is generously listed at 5'10" and 180 pounds, so when Rivera needed someone to cover Plaxico Burress of the Giants – a matchup nightmare for defensive backs at 6'5" and 232 – in Week 10 last season, it was Tillman who drew the assignment and held him to 4 catches for 48 yards.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

That's not to suggest that Vasher didn't deserve his extension, but he implied that Tillman's is still waiting by the phone.

"It feels good," Vasher said after putting his John Hancock on the dotted line Monday. "It's been a great relief. I know a lot of people have contract issues about this time. It's one less thing I have to worry about."

Some fans might be wondering why Angelo has no problem signing Vasher to a big-money deal while disgruntled franchise linebacker Lance Briggs remains a holdout. Briggs has been to two Pro Bowls and made more solo tackles in 2006 than perennial All-Pro Brian Urlacher did (113 to 93). Not to mention the fact that Briggs is perhaps Urlacher's closest friend on the team, as evidenced by Urlacher wearing Briggs' No. 55 in the last session of OTAs last Wednesday.

Simply stated, the weakside `backer is replaced much more easily in this defense than a cornerback. Signing Briggs isn't considered mandatory with the likes of second-year pro Jamar Williams and rookie Michael Okwo waiting in the wings. Signing Vasher was a necessity.

But will the same be said for Tillman?

The defensive tackle position is certainly a concern right now after the troubled Tank Johnson was waived on Monday, but depth at corner is also a question mark. Ricky Manning Jr. excelled in the nickel package but struggled when subbing for both Tillman and Vasher in the starting lineup. Dante Wesley failed to impress his first season in Chicago, and Devin Hester is now catching passes instead of defending them.

Last year's starting free safety, Danieal Manning, worked extensively at corner in the offseason program, and the four other CBs currently on the roster are all untested rookies: fifth-rounder Corey Graham, seventh-rounder Trumaine McBride, and undrafted free agents Tim Mixon and Greg Fassitt.

Tillman admitted that he has very little control over whether or not the Bears will ultimately decide to extend his contract beyond this coming season.

"I just have to let it take its course," he said. "Let the contract take its course. My agent and Coach Smith and all the other big dogs upstairs, that's what they do."

With the likes of QB Rex Grossman and WR Bernard Berrian also due to become free agents after 2007 and stud DT Tommie Harris only signed through 2008, it remains to be seen just where Tillman fits on Angelo's list of priorities.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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