Charles Tillman is the fifth Bears player to win the Man of the Year Award, following Jim Flanigan (2000), Mike Singletary (1990), Dave Duerson (1987) and the great Walter Payton (1977). | AP
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Updated: March 14, 2014 11:58PM
For all the new faces being brought in to bolster the Bears’ defense, it had reached a point where keeping an old, familiar and still-very-good one would be the next best move. The Bears did that Friday by bringing back veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and his takeaway-causing ways.
The Bears reached a one-year deal with Tillman, who had tested free agency. Tillman’s new deal (which reportedly is worth just under $3.5 million) was agreed to not long after he visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and former Bears coach Lovie Smith.
“It’s good to be back,” Tillman told the team’s website. “I’m glad both sides were able to work out a deal. It means a lot.”
Yes, it does.
It means the Bears’ defense retains one of its leaders in the midst of a major overhaul. It means Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs stick together for their 12th seasons. It means the Bears still have two Pro Bowl players at cornerback with Tim Jennings on the other side.
“Charles is one of the NFL’s great players and a true leader on and off the field and we’re happy he will be staying in Chicago,” general manager Phil Emery said in a statement. “He remains the best in our game at forcing turnovers and always has brought a tough, physical presence to our secondary.”
Making sure the Bears were tough and physical at corner was a desire of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s and a goal of Emery’s to accomplish, whether it was through free agency or the draft in May.
It just so happened that the best options were Tillman and Jennings. Although some doubted him, Emery stayed true to his word about wanting to re-sign Tillman.
Tillman’s presence carries considerable weight for a defense that is set to feature three new players — defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and safety Ryan Mundy — in major roles.
Tillman’s return also positively affects Briggs, who had voiced his concerns about all the changes at Halas Hall, in many ways. Briggs called Friday “a glorious day” on Twitter.
On a personal level, Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charity work, gets to improve his standing in franchise history.
Of course, that means more takeaways.
Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles are the second most in the NFL since he started in 2003. His 36 interceptions trail only safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37) in team history.
If there are any concerns moving forward with Tillman, it’s not his age (he turned 33 in February), but his injury-riddled 2013 season.
A nagging knee injury and torn right triceps muscle, which later required surgery, limited the typically durable Tillman to eight games.
Still, Tillman managed 52.5 tackles, three interceptions, four pass break-ups and three forced fumbles.
“I’m very optimistic about my recovery,” Tillman said. “It gives you something to shoot for in terms of motivation.”