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Free agent snapshot: Charles Tillman

02.12.14 at 10:36 am ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett. Now, it’€™s Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

CHARLES “PEANUT” TILLMAN
Position: Cornerback
Age: 32 (will turn 33 on Feb. 23)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 196 pounds

The skinny: Tillman has spent 11 years in the league and has put together a really impressive resume. A second-round pick of the Bears in 2003 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he has 36 career interceptions, including at least three a season for the last four years. He’€™s also Chicago’s career leader in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine), and is one of the best in the league at forcing fumbles — he leads the NFL with 42 forced fumbles since 2003, having apparently perfected the art of what’€™s known as the “Peanut Punch.”

A two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro, he’€™s also carved out a career as one of the most well respected guys in the league. Considered an extremely high-character guy, Tillman has a distinguished off-field resume. The son of an Army sergeant, he was the winner of the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (earlier this month, he gave away his Super Bowl tickets to a deserving military family), won the 2012 Salute to Service Award (thanks in large part to his work with the military and military families), was a finalist for the Payton award in 2007 and 2011. His foundation has helped generate more than $1 million for individuals who have been identified by local organizations as at risk or in need.

On the field, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but could be part of a rotation in the secondary and would be able to serve as a mentor to the younger defensive backs. Bottom line? Whoever lands Tillman would not only get a smart and savvy veteran, they’d also be getting an extremely high-character locker room presence. At the right price — and if he’s healthy — he’d be a terrific pickup.

By the numbers: Tillman is the only player since 2003 to record 40 forced fumbles and 30 interceptions.

Why it would work: The Patriots have made it an annual tradition to bring in a well-established veteran presence at the end of his career in hopes of squeezing another year or two out of him. In return, said veteran gets a chance to win a ring and at least one more payday. (The most recent example is Tommy Kelly.) Tillman, who has played in just six postseason games in his 11-year career and none since 2010, is just that sort of veteran. The Patriots need to build some depth in the secondary, and the presence of a longer, leaner body like Tillman will allow them to get a little bigger at corner. Because of a triceps injury he suffered midway through the 2013 season and his age, Tillman is expected to be available at a reasonable price. And for a franchise that’€™s always on the lookout for high-character guys in the post Aaron Hernandez era, you can’€™t do much better than someone like Tillman.

Why it might not work: Health. Tillman is returning from a triceps injury, and for a player on the north side of 30, it’€™s never easy to return from an injury that put you on IR for the rest of the year. (He also struggled with groin and knee injuries in 2013.) While the Patriots have shown an extraordinary amount of patience in the past with veterans returning from injury (Jake Ballard, Leon Washington), they might not be so inclined to do the same with Tillman. Tillman also clearly has an affection for former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who recently got the head coaching job in Tampa, and could be more willing to give a discount to his old coach as opposed to signing somewhere else.

Quote: “I’m not really worried about it. I have some decisions I have to make in the next couple of weeks, couple of months. I am just going to see what happens. I have some options, I have some thoughts.” — Tillman on the prospect of free agency

Our take: Some of it will depend on what happens with Aqib Talib, but if Tillman is willing to take a chance, as well as what would likely be a pay cut (he was paid almost $8 million last year), he could probably find a home with the Patriots. He isn’t an elite-level corner anymore, and there are questions about what sort of player he’€™ll be after last year’s triceps injury, but Tillman could become a part of a New England secondary that needs another long-limbed corner to provide depth, and be the latest veteran to try to win a ring late in his career with the Patriots. The Patriots shouldn’t go much beyond two seasons and relatively short money, but if they can make it work, on paper, Tillman would appear to be a really good fit.

Read More: Charles Tillman, free agent snapshot,
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