8-11-02, 3:25 p.m.
8-11-02, 6:50 p.m. Updated:
8-11-02, 9:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ John Jackson didn't want to retire when Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau sat down to talk with him here Saturday night at Georgetown College.
But with Jackson now 37 years old and with No. 1 pick Levi Jones ahead of him as the No. 2 left tackle on the depth chart, the Bengals couldn't see him playing a 15th season in Cincinnati. So they gave him his release so he could pursue another job.
His exit turned out to be as classy as the man who went from a Cincinnati prep product at Woodward High School to a starter in 13 playoff games and one Super Bowl with the Steelers,
"They did what they felt like they had to do and it's time to move on," said Jackson Sunday night from his Cincinnati home. "I'll hook on with another team and finish it there. Don't feel sorry for me. I've been blessed with a great career and I'll be somewhere."
The move shows the Bengals are clearly banking on Jones being ready if something happens to Richmond Webb, the 35-year-old starter. Even if Jones had some technique problems Friday night protecting the passer.
"I wish him the best," Jackson said. "There are going to be some bad times, but there are going to be some good times, too. He'll have to take the good with the bad."
Jackson didn't want to say which NFL teams he had in mind, but he went out of his way to praise Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau. Their relationship stretches to their glory days together with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-1990s.
"It was a great opportunity while it lasted," said Jackson of playing in his hometown. "The only reason I
came to Cincinnati is because of Dick LeBeau. The only reason I came back this year is because of Dick LeBeau. I'm honored to have played for him."
The move caught Jones by surprise, but the rookie seemed to be learning about the flux of the NFL.
"That's the roll of the dice," he said.
"A guy with a great deal of experience and knowledge just went out the door," said Jones, who was all of nine years old during Jackson's first training camp with the Steelers in 1988. "I appreciated the things he told me and I hope he does well."
Jackson has endured a difficult three months. He lost his father to a heart attack back in May and he underwent an angiogram two weeks ago when he had an abnormal stress test during his training camp physical. The angiogram was normal and he was expected to practice for the first time this season on Sunday.
His agent, the Cincinnati-based Richard Katz, said Sunday night he's confident he'll be able to land a job for Jackson soon.
"John is convinced he can still play and I think a lot of people already know that," Katz said. "Teams are always looking for solid, experienced tackles."
The Bengals don't appear to be concerned about Jones being a bruise away from starting.
"Levi's a No. 1 pick and he's going to be playing a lot of football for us down the road," said Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro football operations. "Whether it happens sooner or later."
"We've got some young guys here who need to play," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "And when it looked like John wouldn't make it at the end, we thought this was the way to go and now he can try and get on elsewhere."
Jackson showed he had something left in his two Bengals' seasons. He ended up beating out incumbent Rod Jones in 2000 and played all but one snap of running back Corey Dillon's NFL rushing record 278-yard game against the Broncos. He played sparingly behind Webb last season, but Jackson blanked Tennessee sack ace Jevon Kearse in the season finale after Webb got hurt in the second quarter.
Jackson mulled retirement at the end of last season until talking with LeBeau. In March, he adjusted his deal so it would be the one-year minimum in order to give the Bengals' salary cap relief.
"He came into my room last night and we talked and he seemed pretty much in control. It sounded like he didn't want to stop playing," said Webb, who along with Jackson gave the Bengals 26 NFL seasons and 26 playoff starts. "He said he was going to go back to San Diego and see what he could find and I told him I'd call him in a week. It's tough to see. He was a guy I enjoyed playing with."
The popular Jackson, a 10th-round choice out of Eastern Kentucky, played his first 10 seasons in Pittsburgh before moving to the Chargers for two seasons. He owns a San Diego salon with wife Joan, but has been extremely active in his hometown with the Boys & Girls Club and has awarded scholarships to nine Hamilton County high schools.
"I'll still be active here, but probably not as much," said Jackson, who plans to stick around Cincinnati for a few days before leaving for the West Coast, or his new team.
Jackson's Bengals' legacy isn't a small one. His July 23, 2000 signing seemed to signal that the notoriously young Bengals were willing to look more closely at veteran players who were good in the locker room.
During the following offseason, the Bengals added older players like Webb and fullback Lorenzo Neal, and then inked cornerback Jeff Burris this past offseason. Because of that legacy, some players think the locker room can survive the departure of one of its leaders.
"John is a solid guy who really helped us in the locker room and on the field," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "It's always hard to lose a guy like that, but this team still has a lot of leaders. You've got guys like Richmond with 13 years and myself with seven and the quarterbacks and guys on defense like Takeo (Spikes) and Brian (Simmons) with five. It's not like a few years go when we had nobody with experience."
The Bengals now need a third-team left tackle behind Webb and Jones, and it looks to be backup left guard Scott Rehberg. The 6-8, 325-pound Rehberg hasn't played tackle in a game since coming to the Bengals in 2000, but he did make two starts at left tackle for the expansion Browns in 1999.
"They've got something going there," Jackson said. "I hope they can keep it going."