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Stacking the deck

Cardinals sign Super Bowl MVP Jackson to 5-year deal

Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2003 4:34 PM
Updated: Wednesday March 12, 2003 8:24 PM
  Safety Dexter Jackson Dexter Jackson had only three regular-season interceptions, but had two in the Super Bowl. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

By Don Banks,

The Arizona Cardinals finally got on the board in free agency on Wednesday, signing Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, the former Tampa Bay free safety, to a five-year contract, Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis confirmed.

In addition, Arizona struck a four-year, $5 million contract with ex-Rams fullback James Hodgins, who was released by St. Louis last month in a salary cap move.

Terms of Jackson's deal were not disclosed, but it is believed that the Cardinals convinced him to opt for Arizona over favored Pittsburgh by increasing the total payout of the contract to $14 million, with a signing bonus of $2.75 million. Jackson on Monday appeared to be close to accepting a five-year, $12.25 million deal from the Steelers, who are trying to replace free-agent Lee Flowers.

The Cardinals entered free agency with more cap room than any NFL team, but until Wednesday had seen their recruiting efforts come up empty. Arizona started Wednesday an estimated $28.4 million under the league's $75 million salary cap.

Arizona adds Blake, Darling
PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Cardinals have agreed to terms with veteran quarterback Jeff Blake and linebacker James Darling.

Blake, who played for Baltimore last season, will replace Jake Plummer, who left for Denver as a free agent. Darling, a six-year veteran, has played for the Jets for the past two seasons.

Terms were not released.

Blake, who also has played for the New York Jets, Cincinnati and New Orleans in an 11-year career, started the final 10 games for Baltimore last season, going 165-for-295 for 2,084 yards and 13 touchdowns after starter Chris Redman was injured.

"The commitment of the coaches and the organization make it a lot easier to make a decision," Blake said. "If you are unsure then it's not the place to be, but the commitment was there."

He was signed over former Pittsburgh QB Kordell Stewart.

"All that stuff doesn't matter to me if I'm doing my job," Blake said. "Playing and doing the things that I'm supposed to be doing, all that stuff will take care of itself, so I'm not worried about things like that."

Head coach Dave McGinnis said Blake's numbers speak for themselves.

"When you are with him and talk to him, the guy exudes confidence and that's only going to help us," McGinnis said. 

"These are two big signings for us," McGinnis said. "Dexter's a guy we had targeted and we wanted very badly. He's a prime example of a terrific achiever in this league. Those are the kind of guys who are the building blocks of a football team. And he's fills a position where we had a void. He brings a whole arsenal of things to us, both on and off the field. We thought he was one of the top ascending players in free agency."

Jackson will replace Kwamie Lassiter at free safety in the Cardinals lineup. Lassiter is a free agent and Arizona did not make an effort to re-sign him. Jackson intercepted two passes in Tampa Bay's Super Bowl upset of Oakland, a performance that all but put him out of the Bucs' price range in free agency.

Tampa Bay wanted to retain their 1999 fourth-round pick, but with their cap problems, the Bucs couldn't offer Jackson more than $1.5 million per season. He received almost twice that from the Cardinals, who in the past two weeks had experienced nothing but setbacks and personnel losses in free agency.

Hodgins received a $1 million signing bonus in his deal, and the Cardinals say he canceled four other scheduled free-agent visits upon agreeing to terms. His forte with the Rams was as a blocking back, and he also has extensive experience on special teams.

"He's a very versatile player who has played in the same type of offense that we run here," McGinnis said. "He can swab out a hole for a runner, catch the ball out of the backfield, and line up in a variety of positions. He's done a little bit of everything, and that kind of fullback is a position we wanted to address."

Hodgins made the Rams in 1999 -- their Super Bowl winning season -- as an undrafted collegiate free agent. He has been the team's No. 1 fullback for the past two seasons, mostly serving in the role of lead blocker for Marshall Faulk.

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