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Jags Defense Looking Hardy

The Jacksonville Jaguars livened up their dormant free-agency period Tuesday, signing former Tampa Bay linebacker Hardy Nickerson to a four-year contract worth $16 million.

Jacksonville has built a reputation as moving quickly once free agency begins. But with salary cap restrictions and a roster without many holes, the team had to choose carefully this year.

What the Jaguars got was a veteran linebacker who has been selected to five Pro Bowls and can step into a position that has given them problems.

"He's a guy with some fire," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's an outstanding leader, an outstanding athlete. He brings a lot of speed to this position. I think he's an ingredient that has been missing from our defense."

The 13-year veteran will play in the middle, moving Lonnie Marts back outside to replace Bryce Paup, a disappointment from the 1998 free agent class who will be released June 1.

    Hardy Nickerson signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars.(AP) Real Audio

  • Jaguars' Hardy Nickerson
  • Nickerson's signing ends a seven-year stint in Tampa Bay in which he built a reputation as one of the premier linebackers in the league.

    He wasn't happy with Tampa Bay's lukewarm attempt at re-signing him. One issue was the size of the signing bonus. Jacksonville paid him a reported bonus of $3.5 million.

    "In terms of being upset or bitter, no," Nickerson said of the negotiations with the Buccaneers. "I knew there would be better opportunities out there."

    Nickerson will be reunited with defensive coordinator Dom Capers. They worked together in 1992, the linebacker's final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Nickerson played his final game of the 1998 season in Jacksonville. The next week, he felt pain in his chest and was diagnosed with a heart condition known as pericarditis. It forced him to miss the rest of the season and threw not only his career, but his life, into jeopardy.

    Given a clean bill of health, Nickerson responded with one of his better seasons in 1999. He had 141 tackles, three forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions and was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.

    The Jaguars also signed quarterback Jamie Martin to a two-year deal worth $1.06 million. Martin played for the Jaguars in 1998, but injured his knee and signed with Cleveand last season.

    He will compete with Jonathan Quinn for the backup position.

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