Free-agent cornerback Charles Tillman acknowledged recently that he has had "some dialogue" with the Chicago Bears about a new contract, but former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher believes Tillman could be a casualty of what Urlacher sees as a purging of players from former coach Lovie Smith's tenure.
"What I'm thinking is the new guy that came in there, he's just trying to get rid of all of Lovie's players, is the way I feel about it," Urlacher, now an analyst at Fox Sports 1, said during Tuesday's "Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Radio 1000. "I think there's gonna be other guys around there that are gone as well that have been really good players for that team for a long time. You get older, that's what happens."
Urlacher apparently knows firsthand after he and the team couldn't come to agreement on a new contract last March, shortly after Marc Trestman took over as the club's head coach. The Bears offered Urlacher a one-year deal worth $2 million, but the linebacker submitted a counteroffer of $3.5 million. Eventually, the Bears announced through a press release they would be parting ways with Urlacher.
The difference in this case, however, is that Tillman still appears to be a productive player, while Urlacher was clearly on the downside of his storied career in 2012.
Tillman was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012, but he played in only eight games last season before suffering a torn triceps that forced the Bears to place him on injured reserve on Nov. 11. Tillman picked off three passes in 2013, and he ranks No. 3 in franchise history with 36 picks in 154 games. He forced six turnovers in 2013, taking into account the three fumbles he forced.
"If I'm in the front office, I'm trying to give my team the best chance to win. For me as a front-office guy, he gives my team the best chance to win at left or right corner, wherever he is," Urlacher said. "If I was a GM and I had a chance to sign Charles Tillman before anybody else could sign him, I would love to sign him. Especially if he was with my team for 11 years, I would be happy to keep him on my team with the type of teammate he is and leader. But maybe there are different opinions about that in Chicago. You think about Charles Tillman, you think about a Bear, a guy who pretty much led the Bears through takeaways. When you think about the fumbles and stuff, he's the guy you think about."
Drafted by Chicago in the second round in the 2003 draft, Tillman has played his entire career with the Bears.
Since coming into the league in '03, Tillman ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in interceptions (tied for fifth with 36), interception return yards (fifth with 675 yards), interception return touchdowns (tied for second with eight), forced fumbles (second with 42) and pass breakups (fifth with 133).
Tillman's contract paid $7.5 million in 2013, and given the team's salary-cap constraints, it's unlikely moving forward that he'll receive a similar deal from the Bears.
"I think I'm OK with it," Tillman said in December as the team cleaned out its lockers. "I think it's the first time in my life I've had to make decisions like this. But I don't know. I'm just kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I'm not stressing. I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good."
One scenario Urlacher could see playing out is a reunion between Tillman and Smith, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also brought aboard former Bears assistant Gill Byrd to coach the secondary.
"That would not shock me one bit," Urlacher said. "Imagine that corner tandem [of Tillman and Darrelle Revis] right there. I would not be surprised if that happened. But I just don't see them letting him get away in Chicago. He's been too good of a player there for too long to let him get away for nothing."