The Carolina Panthers bolstered their defensive backfield for next season with a veteran ballhawk who has made a career off creating turnovers.
Cornerback Charles Tillman signed a one-year deal with the Panthers on Thursday, filling one position that had been vacant since the end of the season. The deal is reportedly worth as much as $3.05 million.
Tillman is entering his 13th season in the NFL after playing 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears, although he has been hampered with injuries the past two seasons. He has 36 career interceptions to go along with 42 forced fumbles. Tillman, whose nickname is “Peanut,” is also well known by the Panthers coaching staff.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was Chicago’s defensive coordinator from 2004-2006 and coached Tillman. Panthers assistant head coach/secondary coach Steve Wilks was the defensive backs coach for the Bears from 2006-2008.
“I think Coach Rivera was one of the main reasons why I wanted to be here,” Tillman said in a statement. “He’s a guy that I had a lot of respect for when I was in Chicago. I love his leadership and his qualities as a coach and he’s done a good job with the Panthers. There’s a good group of guys here like Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton. I got a good vibe here.”
Asked at February’s combine about Tillman, Rivera was ready to give praise to him but realized it could be against the NFL’s tampering rules since Tillman, 34, was still under contract with the Bears.
Now a free agent, Tillman could help the Panthers shore up their defensive backfield. He’s projected as a starter three weeks before the NFL draft.
While Tillman’s best days are behind him, he has still been productive in his 30s.
Of his 36 career interceptions, 14 came between 2010 and 2013. He earned an All-Pro nod in 2012 when he picked off three passes, scored three touchdowns and forced 10 fumbles.
Last year he suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 2 that left the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner cheering for Chicago on the sideline. It was the second consecutive triceps injury for Tillman, who suffered a similar one in Week 10 of the 2013 season. He has played just 10 games in the past two years.
The 6-foot-2 Tillman is projected to start opposite Josh Norman, who emerged last season as the No. 1 cornerback after being in the doghouse for most of 2013. Second-year defensive back Bené Benwikere is better suited at nickel, although he played at corner toward the end of the 2014 season.
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