BY GEOFF HOBSON
TAMPA, Fla. _ The Bengals locked up one of their potential starters Thursday when left tackle John Jackson agreed to a two-year deal that probably keeps him in his hometown until he retires.
Jackson, 36, who earned solid marks for locker room chemistry as well as his play, figures to make about $900,000 this season in bonus, salary and play-time incentives.
He could get as much as $1.7 million over the length of the deal, but the club has an option for 2002. That fits Jackson's desire to take the rest of his career on a year-to-year basis.
Jackson, the former Steeler and Charger who has worked 13 playoff games, signed at the start of last training camp and proved to be a valuable addition when Rod Jones struggled in the first year of his three-year, $9 million deal.
In his first Bengals' start, Jackson helped running back Corey Dillon race to a NFL-record 278 yards against Denver Oct. 22.
Then Jackson pulled a hamstring the next week in Cleveland and the injury hampered him the rest of the year. But the Bengals were 3-2 in games he started.
"I'm not sure there will be a clear-cut starter. They will probably both play depending on the circumstances," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "Rod is a strong run blocker, but when he has off days, it gets away from him in pass protection. John is a good pass blocker. You just don't know if he can play a full 16 games at this point, but he can go in for stretches and be quite effective. We're glad to have him back."
Jackson had no comment Thursday from California after agent Richard Katz finalized the deal with Bengals scout Duke Tobin.
"John gives us a stabilizing influence at a position where we need more consistency if our passing game is going to turn the corner," Tobin said.