Free agency kicks off soon, so let’s count down the top 10 Chicago Bears’ players set on March 10 to hit the open market:
Charles Tillman, cornerback
2014 pay: $2.9 million ($2.25 million base salary, $500,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus, $50,000 in roster bonuses -- $25,000 bonus per game on 46-man roster).
By the numbers: Tillman played 95 snaps in the first two games, contributing 17 tackles, one pass breakup and a quarterback pressure before a torn triceps muscle ended Tillman’s season for the second consecutive year.
The case for keeping him: With nickel becoming such a prevalent sub package, the Bears need at least three solid corners. But as it stands now, Tim Jennings and rising second-year man Kyle Fuller are the only two corners on the roster with significant experience. So Tillman could battle it out with Jennings for one of the starting spots opposite Fuller, or he could slide inside to the slot and play nickel. Tillman has played 12 seasons with the Bears and is the franchise’s leader in defensive touchdowns (9), interception return yards (675), and interception return touchdowns (8). He’s forced 42 fumbles, which ranks second in the NFL since 2003. With all the expected turnover on defense, Tillman is the type of veteran who could be an influential figure for the younger players in the locker room. Tillman’s skills and ability to force takeaways could serve him well in a nickel role if he can’t win a starting job.
The case for letting him walk: There’s a good chance the brass believes it’s time to get younger at the corner position. With Vic Fangio bringing in what’s expected to be a more aggressive scheme, he could be looking to bring in corners more adept at man-to-man coverage, and it’s unknown whether Tillman could handle such responsibility on a consistent basis because he wasn’t asked to do so under previous regimes. Besides that, Tillman is 34 and coming off back-to-back seasons lost to season-ending injuries. While the organization surely values Tillman’s contributions over the years, it might just be time to move on.
Prediction: Tillman isn’t expected to court many suitors once free agency opens as he isn’t expected to be a part of the big money associated with the first wave of free agency. Tillman will likely sign with a team later in free agency. And he’s likely to sign at close to the veteran minimum. The fact you can never have enough solid cornerbacks gives Tillman a solid shot at landing back in Chicago. If that happens, though, he’ll likely sign a team-friendly deal and compete for a role in 2015. It seems more than likely that Tillman will balk at a low-ball offer from the Bears and will sign elsewhere. What's expected to be a weak draft for corners could lift Tillman's value in free agency.