Jackson coming home

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ After 12 years, two teams and a month of off-and-on negotiations, John Jackson is finally coming home. Jackson, the veteran left tackle out of Woodward High School, agreed to a one-year deal with the Bengals today pending physical exams Saturday night and Sunday.

"I'm happy and the kids are happy," said Jackson of 11-year-old Josh and seven-year-old Jordan. "They get to see the grandparents more. And I think anybody would be excited about playing in their hometown."

Richard Katz, Jackson's agent, said his client had pretty much decided to retire last week when the Bengals withdrew their interest. But with the release of Carl Pickens, the Bengals were able to offer more than the $440,000 minimum and probably ended up giving Jackson in the $600,000-to-$700,000 range that includes bonus.

"He was going to retire, but then some things happened," Katz said. "Bruce Armstrong signed for the minimum. James Brown went for $500,000 with $100,000 to sign. And the Bengals called again and he'd like to play there."

Jackson, who turns 36 the last week of the season, is two years removed from signing the richest offensive line deal in history in San Diego but the Chargers released him last month. Jackson thinks he can still start, but as a respected locker room presence, he's not looking to disturb things here. The Bengals view him as a perfect backup for Rod Jones, the left tackle just coming off signing a three-year, $9 million deal.

"I want to make it clear that I'm not going in there to take anyone's job," Jackson said.  "All I want to do is help make the team better and do what I can to help us win."

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander reiterated tonight Jones is the unquestioned starter and admitted the roster battle for what could be only nine spots just got brutal. Don't look for one of the four tackles to get cut with the two former Pittsburgh starters Jackson and Jamain Stephens backing up Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson.

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"This way if something happens to Rod, we don't have to make two moves to replace one," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "We don't have to move Willie Anderson from right tackle. We've regarded John highly for a long time. We've admired his technique, his leverage, and his know-how, but most of all we've admired the kind of person he is."

Jackson, a 10th-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky in 1988 by the Steelers, made his reputation in the mid-1990s as a technically sound pass protector for a perennial playoff team. He and his wife run the John and Joan Jackson Foundation and they appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show a few years ago. They rolled out a wheelbarrow of $5,000 in coins for Oprah's Angel Network that sends one child from each state to college. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Jackson impressed the Bengals last month with his trim build when he visited Paul Brown Stadium. "But he's strong," said Bengals nose tackle Oliver Gibson. "He doesn't look it, but he's tall and wiry. And he's smart. He's a class act. He took me around Pittsburgh my first year." Gibson and Jackson could be putting on some shows during practice. Gibson is one of the Bengals' fiercest practice players and never minds getting in a fight. Jackson has an intense rep, too. "Ask John Jackson about me," Gibson said. "He was the only guy I ever had rip my face mask off." John? "Everything," Jackson said, "including the bolts."

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