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Bears Thu Nov 14 2013

Charles Tillman Should be Back with Bears in 2014

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngThe news of Charles Tillman's arm injury that would shelve him for the remainder of the 2013 was sobering for Bears fans. The quiet leader of the defensive backs that hasn't missed more than one game in a season since 2006 might've played his last game with the only NFL team he's ever known.

Even Tillman admitted it might've been the last time he suited up in the home locker room at Soldier Field. A free agent at the end of the year, there's no guarantee the soon-to-be 33-year-old will be back with the team in 2014. Many thought he'd be offered an extension during last offseason coming off another Pro Bowl campaign, but the decision to let things play out appears to have worked out in favor of the Bears -- as it typically does in a collision league.

The Bears will certainly have the cap space to sign him during the spring, with more than $40 million in space, and potentially another $10-$15 million (depending how he's designated) if they cut Julius Peppers as many expect they will. He's not the only free agent the team would be interested in bringing back, as the long list of guys without a contract for next year includes names like Jay Cutler, Matt Slauson, Tim Jennings, Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Robbie Gould.

On a team that's likely to see a massive amount of turnover, Mel Tucker could surely use a familiar face in the defensive backfield to help out newcomers that will almost assuredly be manning both safety positions. Heck, the team and Tillman may agree down the road that he could remain effective playing safety if he's unable to keep up with elite receivers a la Charles Woodson.

The injuries that Tillman suffered this year might muddy the waters for potential suitors the same way that it did for Ed Reed this past offseason. Even though he only missed one game in 2012, he was 35, and teams inquiring about his services were worried he couldn't play at the level everyone is used to seeing from Reed. Unfortunately, the story ended badly this week when the Texans announced they were releasing him -- likely ending his Hall of Fame career.

Despite the outcome being the exact opposite of what both player and team strive for, his contract is actually a good base of information. Tillman has played worse this season than Reed did in 2012 (mainly due to injury), and Reed was always regarded as the more talented player. Tillman, however, is more than two years younger than Reed was going into this contract year.

The Texans inked Reed to a three-year, $15 million deal with $5 million guaranteed (2013 base salary plus his signing bonus), and also gave him a roster bonus for every game played. Phil Emery might be thinking something very similar, but since the team is flush with cash, instead of including a signing bonus, the Bears might simply guarantee his entire base salary for the first year so they can cut him at any point after 2014 without any sort of cap hit. It might take a million extra bucks per season to get him to come back since he's a little younger, and would likely be Pro Bowl caliber again this season had he not been battling injuries.

The season-ending injury for Tillman is a huge loss for the Bears, but it doesn't mean he's permanently gone from the organization. Though it's no guarantee he'll be back, the team has the need, the money, and comp values to forge an agreeable deal with a player that is in third place among all-time Bears with 36 interceptions, and is the franchise leader with 40 forced fumbles.

Tillman may be gone for the season, but he surely won't be forgotten when it's time to negotiate contracts in March.

 
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