LAKE FOREST, Illinois — The Chicago Bears agreed to a one-year contract with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman on Friday, retaining one of their cornerstone players as they try to revitalize a struggling defense.
Tillman's status was one of the biggest questions hovering over the team this offseason after the Bears went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. But they answered that by announcing he will be back for a 12th season.
The Bears have been overhauling a defense that struggled in a big way last season, releasing eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. They decided to bring back Tillman even though he is 33 and coming off a season in which he was limited to eight games because of a torn right triceps.
"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. Charles also has a special connection to the people and community across Chicago and we're excited for that to continue."
The Bears saw enough good things before he went down to re-sign Tillman. He had three interceptions, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles, but his injury in a loss to Detroit on Nov. 10 cut short what had been another solid season.
The Bears had already lost defensive tackle Henry Melton (ACL tear) and linebacker D.J. Williams (torn pectoral muscle) to season-ending injuries. Star linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder fracture) was also sidelined at the time. Quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a high left ankle sprain against the Lions and missed the next four games.
Tillman's 42 forced fumbles are the second most in the league and most among cornerbacks since the Bears drafted him in the second round in 2003. He is also tied for fifth in interceptions, fifth in interception return yards and tied for second in interception return touchdowns during that span.
Now, Tillman is returning to a defense that will have a different look up front, personnel-wise.
The Bears have two new ends in Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, and they've also added Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings to the mix at safety. Whether Melton, a free agent, will be back remains unclear. But the Bears appear to be set at cornerback for next season after retaining Tillman and giving Tim Jennings a four-year deal.