Throughout most of the Chicago Bears' existence, they have been known for their defense. While they have been blessed with the offensive talents of guys like Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, images of defensive legends like Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton more often than not are connected with one of the league's charter franchises.
While Butkus, Singletary and Brian Urlacher are synonymous with the Bears linebacker legends, Hampton, Richard Dent and Doug Atkins with the defense line and Doug Plank, Dave Duerson and Gary Fencik with the safety position, only one name has become the most synonymous with the cornerback position: Charles Tillman.
The Bears selected Tillman in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft, 35th overall. Other than injuries in 2004 and this past season, Tillman has essentially been penciled in as the team's starter at cornerback for more than a decade.
In his 11 seasons in Chicago, he holds the team's record for defensive touchdowns with nine, forced fumbles with 38 and is two interceptions away from tying Fencik's team interception record.
After being a stalwart at cornerback for more than a decade, the team now has to face the decision of whether or not to re-sign him for the 2014 season.
While he has yet to be offered a formal contract, he stated on the Laurence Holmes Show earlier this year, via CBS Chicago, "In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that."
His guarantee to retire as a member of the Chicago Bears is not a guarantee that he will actually play another game with the team, considering general manager Phil Emery would like the team to get younger, telling Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, "I will just tell you we’re going to be a younger defense."
Despite Tillman not fitting the mold of getting younger on defense, there are still plenty of reasons why he should be re-signed for at least the 2014 season.
Few Options After Tim Jennings at Cornerback
The Bears wasted little time re-signing the other half of the team's cornerback duo, Tim Jennings, to a long-term deal following the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Jennings' deal, worth $22.4 million, will keep him in Chicago for the next four seasons. He is now a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback and combined with Tillman, they helped form one of the best cornerback duos in the league the past two seasons.
Outside of the success of Seattle's Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, Tillman and Jennings have been one of the league's most feared cornerback tandems, hauling in a combined 24 interceptions the past three seasons.
As it stands, the only cornerbacks currently on the Bears' roster are Jennings, nickelback Isaiah Frey and two unproven former undrafted free agents: C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst.
The team could always go and sign a veteran free agent but bringing back Tillman would help solidify the position for at least one more year and would allow either Wilson, Hurst or a rookie to develop in 2014.
He Consistently Creates Turnovers
|Charles Tillman's Takeways 2011-2013|
|Year||Games Played||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
|2012||16||3 (All Returned for Touchdowns)||10|
|2011||16||3 (2 Returned for Touchdowns)||4|
As the chart shows, in his last 40 games Tillman has nine interceptions, five of which he has returned for touchdowns. Along with his interceptions, he has forced 17 fumbles during that time and forced a league-best 10 fumbles in 2012.
Combine his ability to take the football away with Jennings, who has 13 interceptions the past two seasons—second only to Sherman—and they are one of the league's best cornerback duos at creating turnovers.
He made the "Peanut Punch"—a name given to his uncanny ability to punch the football out of opponents arms—a household phrase in Chicago and because of that, opponents fear lining up across from him.
The Bears defense of the mid-to-late 2000s was successful due in part to their ability to create turnovers, and Tillman was a big part of that. If the defense wants to rebound in 2014, Tillman still has the ability to contribute to that.
He's a Leader On and Off the Field
While Tillman's production on the field has been tremendous during his 11-year career in Chicago, he has been a model teammate on and off the field.
Tillman received the Ed Block Courage Award in 2009 and according to its website, "Each year, the Ed Block Courage Awards honors those National Football League players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. This award is unique in that the recipients are selected solely by a vote of their teammates."
In 2003, 2008 and 2013 he was honored with the team's Brian Piccolo Award and according to its website, it is voted on by teammates for the rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.
Most recently, Tillman was honored as the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recipient, which honors a player's volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field.
There is obviously a difference between being a great guy and being a great player but throughout his career, Tillman has been a combination of both. Considering the respect that his teammates have for him, bringing Tillman back could have a very positive effect on the team's locker room.