Locker clean-out days always have a somber tone around the NFL. But Monday morning at Halas Hall, a day after the Bears narrowly missed out on a playoff berth with a 33-28 loss to the Packers, the uncertainty was more prevalent than usual.
As has been well-documented, the Bears face major roster turnover, finishing the season with 28 players on the active roster or injured reserve who have contracts that expire in March.
Among the most notable: quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, return specialist Devin Hester, linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson, defensive tackles Henry Melton and Jeremiah Ratliff, center Roberto Garza, safety Major Wright and guard Matt Slauson.
Many of those players talked about the limbo ahead with two catchphrases repeated throughout the morning: "We'll see what happens" and "It's just part of the business."
Tillman was particularly ambiguous in discussing his future, having just finished his 11th season with the Bears on injured reserve after tearing his right triceps in Week 10.
Tillman made it clear he expects to play somewhere in 2014 but seemed less than certain it would be as a Bear.
"Chicago has been great," Tillman said. "Chicago is great. They've got great owners, great fans, great teammates. … Eleven years here is truly an honor. I'm truly blessed with the McCaskey family with what they've done, for them taking a chance on a little scrawny kid out of Louisiana-Lafayette."
Tillman hinted he is leaving his options open but declined to specify.
"I've got some decisions that I have to make here in the next couple of weeks, couple of months," he said.
With head coaching openings around the league, the whereabouts of former Bears coach Lovie Smith may be worth monitoring. Tillman played in Smith's defense for nine seasons.
Tillman was asked if he had any early indications the Bears would at least aim to bring him back.
"I think they will," he said. "I like it here."
But Tillman also expressed hesitance about wanting to be a part of what seems to be an inevitable rebuilding process on defense.
"Like I said, I have some options. I have some thoughts," he said. "I have some decisions that I have to make (about) what's best for myself and my family and my football career."
Stick to what works: Brandon Marshall says he can hardly wait to resume workouts this offseason after Sunday's bitter loss, a defeat that ended with the Pro Bowl receiver face down on the frozen Soldier Field grass after a Sam Shields interception.
"I was going to take off a few months," Marshall said. "But that feeling of that cold ground when (the Packers) picked the ball off? I felt that and I continue to feel it. So I'm going to start up Monday after the Super Bowl. … I thought I was going to change that to rest my body and my mind. But it has just added more fuel to my fire."
Marshall plans to again recruit fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery to his offseason workouts in Florida, a move that paid dividends for Jeffery this year, sparking a season in which the young receiver posted 89 catches, 1,429 yards and seven touchdowns.
"That's our blueprint," Marshall said. "Right after we cooled down a little bit in the locker room, we huddled for a little bit and said, 'Hey, we're going to stick to what we know.'"
Now what? Garza, who turns 35 in March and just completed his 13th season, was one of many players to express his desire to return in 2014.
"I know I can play another year," Garza said. "And at my age, you see what happens. I feel really good. And hopefully I can continue playing. I definitely feel like I can keep playing."
Hester expressed similar sentiments after showing signs against the Packers on Sunday that he still has fuel in the tank, delivering a 39-yard return on the opening kickoff and a 49-yard punt return shortly after halftime.
"I want to retire as a Bear," Hester said. "I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back. So who knows?"
Let's make a deal: The Bears signed eight practice squad players to reserves/futures contracts Monday, securing their rights for the offseason. Those players: Sean Cattouse, C.J. Wilson, Demontre Hurst, Rogers Gaines, Fendi Onobun, Tracy Robertson, Terrence Toliver and Lawrence Wilson.
Also signed were long snapper Brandon Hartson, tight end Zach Miller and quarterback Jerrod Johnson.