The Bears on Friday retained one of their own key free agents, agreeing to terms with veteran cornerback Charles Tillman on a one-year contract.
Since being selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2003 draft, Tillman has become one of the best defensive players in franchise history. He owns Bears career records with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs and 675 interception return yards.
"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," said Bears general manager Phil Emery. "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."
Tillman is excited about returning to the Bears for his 12th season.
"It's good to be back," he told ChicagoBears.com. "I'm glad both sides were able to work out a deal. It means a lot [to remain with the Bears]."
Tillman is eager to continue playing with linebacker Lance Briggs. The two close friends were chosen by the Bears in back-to-back rounds in the draft and were elevated into the starting lineup at the same time.
"I'm glad that I'm still together with my classmate, Lance Briggs," said Tillman, who turned 33 last month. "We've both started since the fourth game of our rookie season and will continue to play together. It's good to have a classmate. I can't say enough about that."
Tillman's 36 career interceptions are the most by a cornerback in Bears history and third most overall behind safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37).
Since entering the NFL, Tillman is the league's only player with at least 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. During that span he is second in forced fumbles, tied for fifth in interceptions, fifth in interception return yards and tied for second in interception return TDs.
Off the field, Tillman's contributions are equally impressive. He was selected the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year primarily for his work with the Cornerstone Foundation. Since its inception in 2005, Tillman's efforts have impacted over one million Chicago-area children and raised more than $1 million.
After missing only seven games in nine seasons, Tillman eclipsed that total in 2013. He was never 100 percent after hurting his knee in a Week 2 win over the Vikings. He sat out one game due to the knee and then missed the final seven contests with a torn triceps muscle he sustained in a loss to the Lions.
Tillman said that there's "no doubt in my mind" he will rebound from the injury.
"I'm very optimistic about my recovery," Tillman said. "It gives you something to shoot for in terms of motivation. I guess you could say I have a chip on my shoulder from the standpoint that I didn't finish the season. So the chip on my shoulder is against myself because I got hurt. So that's my competition. I'm competing against myself to be better than I was last year."