Jackson signs four-year deal with Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals on Monday afternoon addressed one of their biggest needs, reaching agreement with unrestricted free agent safety Dexter Jackson on a four-year contract.

Jackson agreed to a four-year, $7.6 million deal, according to ESPN.com's John Clayton, and will be the team's starting free safety.

Jackson was the most valuable player in Super Bowl XXXVII, when he was playing in the first of two stints with the Tampa Bay Bucs. The seven-year veteran should bring leadership and instincts to the interior of the Cincinnati secondary.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, saddled with poor play at safety in 2005, is also hoping to add a physical dimension, which Jackson should enhance.

Even if Jackson simply makes the routine plays at safety, particularly against the run, he is an upgrade for the Bengals over last season. Cincinnati lost both starters from its 2004 lineup, Madieu Williams and Kim Herring, to injuries and their absences dramatically affected the secondary unit.

The Bengals met over the weekend with free agent safety Lawyer Milloy, released by Buffalo last week, but it is believed the veteran left town without a contract offer.

Jackson, 28, began his career with the Bucs as a fourth-round choice in the 1999 draft. He played four seasons in Tampa Bay before taking advantage of his Super Bowl most valuable player award to sign with Arizona in 2003. But the Cardinals released Jackson after just one season and he returned to the Bucs late in the 2004 campaign.

The former Florida State standout has 329 career tackles, 14 interceptions, 18 passes defensed and 3½ sacks. He started in 10 games in 2005 and had 54 tackles, one interception and one sack. Jackson's best season was in 2003, when he posted 105 tackles and six interceptions.

He culminated that season with a Super Bowl performance where he had two interceptions.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.