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Tillman wants to return, but Bears might not have enough money

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Updated: December 30, 2013 11:03PM

Charles Tillman can’t imagine what it would be like not to wear the Bears’ blue and orange, not to call Soldier Field his home, not to be part of the Chicago sports landscape.

But Tillman, the best cornerback in franchise history, knows that it might be his new reality, that his stellar, ball-punching run with the Bears might be approaching its end. He needs a new deal, like many other Bears, and there’s no guaranteeing one can be reached.

Tillman sounded like a player giving his thankful goodbyes at times Monday, and his contract situation bears watching more than most others.

‘‘Chicago has been great; Chicago is great,’’ Tillman said as Bears players cleaned out their lockers at Halas Hall. ‘‘They’ve got great owners, great fans, great teammates. This is a great team; it’s a great organization. Eleven years here is truly an honor. I’m truly blessed with the McCaskey family for what they’ve done, for them taking a chance on a little scrawny kid out of Lafayette, Louisiana. So, yeah, man, I’m truly blessed and happy they took a chance drafting a little kid out of Louisiana.’’

Even though Tillman said there haven’t been any new contract talks, he made it seem as though there was some mutual interest and indicated he wouldn’t object to being part of a rebuilding on

‘‘I think they do [want me to
return],’’ Tillman said. ‘‘I think they will [give me an indication]. I like it here. Like I said, a great town, great friends, great city, great organization.’’

Making something work, though, might be a challenge. Tillman was paid $7.95 million this season, and the Bears are unlikely to pay him close to that with a
defense to remake and others — such as defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Tim Jennings — to consider.

Tillman turns 33 in February and is coming off a triceps injury that
involves ‘‘a couple of weeks, a couple of months or so’’ of rehab work, he said. He also dealt with a nagging knee injury when he was active.

That said, it still would be difficult for the Bears to replace a player of Tillman’s caliber, even at his age. In eight games this season, Tillman had three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Tillman ranks third in Bears history with 36 interceptions and first with nine touchdowns on fumble or interception returns. Since his rookie season in 2003, he ranks second in the NFL with 42 forced fumbles and fifth with 133 passes broken up.

Tillman definitely isn’t done playing, either. He’s not even considering retirement. He said he’s hoping ‘‘for something positive’’ to happen in the coming days, weeks or months.

‘‘I have some options,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘I have some thoughts. I have some decisions that I have to make [about] what’s best for myself and my family and my football career.’’

Tillman said he’s OK dealing with this much uncertainty for the first time in his career.

‘‘I think it’s the first time in my life that I’ve had to make decisions like this,’’ he said. ‘‘But I’m just kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I’m not stressing. I’m not worried about it.’’

As far as his injury-plagued 2013 season, Tillman didn’t hide his disappointment.

‘‘[It’s] frustrating from the standpoint of not making the playoffs, frustrating for me not being able to help my teammates out when I felt like they needed me,’’ he said. ‘‘Just a lot of frustration this year for me not being out there with my teammates.’’


Twitter: @adamjahns

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