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A new team and a baby for Jackson

Ex-Bucs free safety signs with Cardinals for $14-million hours before birth of his first child.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 13, 2003

TAMPA -- Hours after the Arizona Cardinals made Dexter Jackson the second highest-paid free safety in the NFL, his wife Tina gave birth to the couple's first child, a girl, at 5:36 p.m. Wednesday.

Talk about a bonus baby.

Jackson signed a five-year, $14-million contract that included a $2.75-million signing bonus, cashing in on his two-interception performance that made him the Super Bowl XXXVII Most Valuable Player.

Now it's Jackson's turn to deliver for the Cardinals, a team that has reached the playoffs just once since moving to Arizona in 1988.

The switch from Tampa to Tempe came as a bit of a surprise since Jackson had all but accepted a five-year, $12.5-million deal Monday to play for the Steelers.

But the Cardinals, who also signed Ravens free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake on Wednesday, topped the Steelers offer by $2.5-million over the first three years.

"He was impressed with coach (Dave) McGinnis and by his visit there and Arizona made an offer to make him the second highest-paid free safety in the league," said Peter Schaffer, Jackson's agent. "They recognized his past contributions to a Super Bowl team and his future contributions in getting the Cardinals to the Super Bowl."

Jackson's departure from the Bucs almost seemed inevitable from the time he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in San Diego.

The Bucs, whose priorities were to re-sign linebacker Shelton Quarles and two free-agent offensive linemen, did not leave enough room under the salary cap to match the Cardinals' offer. The world champions were only able to propose a salary of about $1.5-million per year.

The loss of Jackson means the Bucs will likely turn to third-year pro John Howell or Jermaine Phillips, a second-year player from Georgia, to fill the void at free safety.

"We've been communicating with the Bucs since the end of the Super Bowl," Schaffer said. "It was impossible for them with their salary cap situation. But we were in constant dialogue and kept them completely informed. And Dexter is very appreciative of his entire stay in Tampa and of winning a Super Bowl ring, something he will cherish the rest of his life. He'd like to thank Monte Kiffin and Jon Gruden for everything they've done for him. He understood they couldn't do it and now he's an Arizona Cardinal."

Jackson, 25, was a fourth-round pick by the Bucs from Florida State in 1999, becoming a starter in his third season. Last season he registered a career-best 86 tackles with three interceptions and 10 passes defensed to key a secondary that ranked first in pass defense.

"You ask anybody who plays the game and understands the game, they'll tell you Dexter Jackson was a big part of our defense," Jackson said during his visit to the Cardinals. "If you go back and watch film, you'll see, it's hard to make plays on that defense.

"I'm a worker and I'm going to bring that enthusiasm to Arizona."

Jackson likely is not the last starter off the Bucs defense to leave.

Free-agent linebacker Alshermond Singleton is weighing offers from the Cowboys and Lions and could sign with one of those teams soon. The Bucs, who signed Quarles, Giants guard Jason Whittle and Jaguars center John Wade, are just a little more than $500,000 under the $75-million salary cap.

The Bucs' next priority is re-signing free-agent left tackle Roman Oben and acquiring quarterbacks to back up Brad Johnson.

This week, the Bucs have received visits from Steelers free-agent quarterback Charlie Batch and the Raiders' Bobby Hoying. On Wednesday, former Bears and Redskins quarterback Shane Matthews met with the Bucs.

Today, former Bears quarterback Jim Miller will meet with Gruden and undergo a physical. Miller is recovering from rotator cuff surgery and won't begin throwing until June at the earliest.

But Wednesday belonged to Jackson, who continued an amazing string of success since the Super Bowl by finding a new team and becoming a new father in the same day.

"It's been a great month and a half and a great ride of a lifetime," Schaffer said of Jackson. "He went from Super Bowl champion, to Super Bowl MVP, to having a child and becoming set for the rest of his life. He couldn't ask for more than that."

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