Cornerback Charles Tillman acknowledged on Monday that it’s possible he’s played his last game as a Chicago Bear, shortly after the team announced he’d miss the remainder of the regular season due to a torn right triceps.
Placed on the injured reserve with the designation to return, Tillman can resume practicing in six weeks, but can’t play for eight weeks, meaning the only way he’ll be back in a Bears uniform this season is if the team advances to the playoffs. In the last year of a contract paying a base salary of $7.95 million in 2013, Tillman knows he might not be back next season.
“Potentally, possibly, yeah,” Tillman said. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it until you just said it. So thanks for spoiling the mood.”
Tillman definitely won’t struggle to find work once his deal expires, and it’s likely the Bears will look to bring him back for the 2014 season. But the club will want to strike a cap-friendly deal, which means Tillman won’t be in line for a pay day in the range of what he’s earned in recent years. Tillman carried cap charges of $6.46 million in 2011, $7.97 million in 2012 and $8 million in 2013.
Even though Tillman still possesses the ability to perform consistently at a high level, the fact is he’ll be 33 years old in February, which means the Bears won’t be inclined to sign him to a big-money deal or one that lasts more than one or two years. It will be a different situation than the team faced with future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher last offseason because Tillman is still one of the league’s better corners, while the linebacker’s play had clearly declined when the Bears made the decision to go a different direction.
So if Tillman wants to stay beyond this season, it will likely come down to what he’s willing to accept. Surely, the cornerback knows how veterans -- even players performing at a reasonably high level -- have been treated recently in the free-agent market under conditions of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Tillman was also asked about the possibility of making the position switch to safety, which some corners do in their later years to extend their careers. But Tillman didn’t sound like that was a move he wanted to make at this stage.
An 11-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler with 150 career starts, Tillman ranks third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, and is the Bears' career leader in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine).
Tillman also leads the NFL with 42 forced fumbles since 2003, and is the only player in that span to force 40 fumbles and pick off 30 passes.
“No,” Tillman said when asked about the possibility of moving to safety. “I think my athleticism is still there to play corner in this league, whether it be for the Bears or somebody else. I think I still have some corner left in me.”
There’s a good chance other teams will agree if the Bears let Tillman reach the free-agent market. But age will limit his earning power.