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Peanut Tillman open to playing for Lovie Smith

CHICAGO IL - SEPTEMBER 08:  Charles Tillman #33 Chicago Bears returns his second interceptigame against Cincinnati Bengals Soldier Field

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 08: Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears returns his second interception of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field on September 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Updated: February 1, 2014 8:11PM



NEW YORK — Acknowledging the allure of playing for his former coach, Charles Tillman on Friday said he’s “open to all teams” if he can’t re-sign with the Bears.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith in January.

“Obviously, it makes the deal probably a little sweeter just because it’s a former head coach,” Tillman said. “You do know the system, you know the scheme.

“I think it helps it from a standpoint that it’s a former coach, a guy that you liked, a guy that you’d been with for 10 years. It’s cool. But it’s free agency. I’m open to whoever.”

The cornerback hasn’t talked to Smith about his future but predicted the Bucs’ defense would “eventually lead the league in turnovers” under Smith’s tutelage.

Tillman disagreed with Brian Urlacher’s assertion earlier this week that the Bears were trying to purge Smith’s players.

“I think Lovie just has the opportunity to possibly pick up some other guys because he’s the head coach in Tampa,” Tillman said. “I think it’s just a timing issue.”

Whether Tillman leaves the only team he’s ever known — for the Buccaneers or anyone else — is a different question.

He wants to stay in Chicago.

“You know, whatever happens, there will be no bad blood,” he said. “I do not think there will be any bad blood. Hell, I know there won’t be anything bad.”

He reaffirmed his desire to retire as a Bear. If he goes elsewhere, Tillman always could sign a ceremonial contract at the end of his career.

Tillman compared that scenario to the one used by Richard Dent, who was embraced by the Bears despite playing for the 49ers, Colts and Eagles at the end of his career.

Tillman goes to Halas Hall nearly every day — “Everybody’s happy,” he said — and speaks regularly with coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery.

“I’m just trying to make the best decision, and hopefully the Bears do, too,” he said. “If I get to free agency, so be it. If I don’t, so be it. It’s nothing personal. It’s a business. It’s a process.”

His connection to Chicago extended Friday to the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, given to the player best exemplifying on-field performance and off-the-field charity. Tillman is one of three finalists for the second time. The winner will be announced Saturday.

He said playing in Chicago and knowing “what the Walter Payton legacy is” makes the award more special.

In addition to his Chicago charities, Tillman has helped build a school in Cambodia.

“It’s not about actually receiving the award,” he said. “We don’t do this to get recognition or do this to be in the paper. We do this because we want to.”

The two-time Pro Bowl selection said he was happy for teammate and fellow cornerback Tim Jennings, who signed a four-year deal in January that could be worth $22.4 million.

Tillman said Jennings’ deal didn’t change the equation on whether he’d re-sign.

“I’m always happy for players to get money,” he said. “The life expectancy of playing in the NFL is only three years. So for a guy to get a good payday — for anybody — I’m happy for them. It’s hard to get to this level.

“You want to see everyone get that big payday, and it doesn’t work all the time. I’ve seen some guys fall short of that. Any time a guy can get a big payday, kudos to him.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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