Mailbag: Tillman's future a big question

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
9:30
AM ET
Here is this week's mailbag:

1. Huge Bears fan! We are upset that Charles Tillman is out for the year. Please tell me the Bears are bringing Peanut back next year. I have the Peanut Punch t-shirt and everything! -- Maria C., Mundelein, Ill.

Dickerson: Maria, I’ve responded to several Tillman questions this year in the mailbag. I refuse to budge on my belief that Tillman is the greatest defensive back in Bears history. Since entering the league in 2003, Tillman is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions (36), tied for second in interception returns (8), second in forced fumbles (42) and fifth in passes defended (133). But I can definitely envision Tillman leaving the organization in the offseason. We’ve covered much of this before; Tillman is earning slightly over $8 million in 2013. What does he expect to make in a new deal? Are the Bears willing to pay that? What will the market be for Tillman in free agency?

As for my personal opinion: I’m pessimistic that Tillman will return. I predict he gets a better deal someplace else. It’s a real shame that Tillman is not returning for the playoffs, if the Bears make it that far. He deserved a better send off, if in fact, this is the end. But heading into free agency health is important for any free agent, especially a cornerback who turns 33 years old in February. I don’t blame Tillman for seeking a second opinion on his torn triceps and the course of action that subsequently followed.

2. JD, I know you’re a Lovie Smith supporter; does Lovie get an NFL head coaching job next year? Lovie doesn’t know offense; therefore he would never get a job in my book. What do you think is going to happen? Regards. Peter, Lake Bluff, Ill.

Dickerson: Not sure I’ve ever been labeled a “Lovie Smith supporter,” Peter, but I do respect Smith’s body of work in Chicago. In nine seasons, Smith had an overall record of 84-66, won three NFC North titles and led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI. He is the third winningest coach in Bears history behind only Hall of Famers George Halas and Mike Ditka. Smith has faults, we all do, but he deserves another shot to coach an NFL team. Remember, the Bears finished 10-6 in his final year, so it’s not like Smith left the organization in shambles. Smith has reportedly already interviewed for the Houston Texans’ vacancy, and I would expect Smith to receive strong looks in Tampa Bay, Detroit and Dallas if those jobs open up. I’m not close enough to Smith to know who he plans to pitch as his offensive coordinator when he interviews with these teams, but if Smith can convince ownership that he is capable of making the correct hire on the offensive side of the ball; I believe it’s a no-brainer that he is patrolling an NFL sideline in 2014.

3. Are any of Marc Trestman’s assistant coaches in line for promotions either at Halas Hall or around the league? Keep up the good work. Bunch of my friends are traveling to Philadelphia. Any tips? -- Dev, Chicago

Dickerson: Dev, I hesitate to offer up tips on Philadelphia because I’ve only traveled to the city three times. I did enjoy a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich at the Redding Terminal two years ago, so I might try and hit that spot Sunday around lunchtime. Philadelphia sports fans are intense. So keep your wits about you Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

As for this group of Bears assistant coaches: I read Peter King’s report that the NFL is pushing minority candidates, including Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, for head coaching jobs. I predict that Tucker will one day be either an NFL or high-level collegiate head coach. However, Tucker is likely a tough sell this year because the Bears rank No. 27 in total defense, No. 28 in points allowed and No. 32 in rushing defense. But let’s see how Tucker fares next year with a revamped defense. His stock could be on the rise in 2014.

Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh stands out to me for the work he has done with Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. But Cavanaugh can’t move in the Bears organization because Aaron Kromer, another assistant who deserves praise, has the title of offensive coordinator, and Joe DeCamillis is the assistant head coach/special-teams coordinator. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if teams ask permission to speak with Cavanaugh in regards to offensive coordinator positions in the offseason. It’s a job Cavanaugh has held before in the NFL, including during his first stint with the Bears from 1997-98.

Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke was rumored to be in the running for the Bears’ defensive coordinator post last offseason before Tucker was hired. Hoke is a solid coach. He’s been in the league since 2002 and also spent time in the collegiate ranks as the Florida Gators defensive coordinator.

Obviously, I can’t predict the future, but there are coaches on this staff who could be attractive to other teams in the future.

4. Jeff, is there an unsung hero on the Bears roster that nobody is talking much about? I spent time searching for the under-the-radar guys. I know, I need to get a life! Help me! -- Clark S., Atlanta

Dickerson: Bears kicker Robbie Gould this week on our radio show (shameless plug) described punter Adam Podlesh as one of those under-the-radar types. Podlesh was under pressure to keep his job after an uncharacteristically rough performance versus the Detroit Lions on Sep. 29. But Podlesh recovered and is close to his career averages in yards per kick (41.4), net average (38.5) and kicks dropped inside the 20 (24).

Other candidates include: wide receiver Earl Bennett, safety Craig Steltz, defensive lineman Corey Wootton and left guard Matt Slauson.

5. Jeff, talk me off the ledge. I’m down on Martellus Bennett. I thought the Bears were going get a lot more bang for their buck. Has Bennett been worth the money? Happy Holidays to you and your family. -- Steven H., Orland Park, Ill.

Dickerson: Thank you, Steven, for the holiday wishes. The same to you and your family. Bennett has 59 receptions for 659 yards and five touchdowns through 14 games. Let’s compare those numbers to Kellen Davis’ production for the entire 2012 season: 19 catches for 229 yards, two touchdowns and countless drops. Bennett signed a four-year deal worth $20.4 million with $9.215 million in guarantees. He will earn $5.315 million in 2013. I realize Bennett fumbled last week in Cleveland, but for the majority of the season, he has been a sure-handed weapon in the passing game and a sturdy blocker. Tight end became a black hole for the Bears after they traded Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers in 2011 and released Desmond Clark. Bennett is the first legitimate threat at the position since Olsen and Clark left town. I doubt the Bears are experiencing buyer’s remorse.

Jeff Dickerson | email

Chicago Bears beat reporter
Dickerson has been the Bears beat reporter for ESPN Chicago since 2004. He also hosts weeknight radio shows on ESPN 1000.

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