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Jackson won't be returning

If the Bucs repeat as Super Bowl champions next season, it will be with a new most valuable player.

Unable to match offers from the Cardinals and Steelers, Tampa Bay officially bid farewell to safety Dexter Jackson on Tuesday.

Jackson postponed a decision on signing with either Arizona or Pittsburgh late Tuesday after his wife, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, was induced into labor. But he is considering offers comparable to or exceeding the five-year, $12.5-million deal safety Corey Hall signed with the Falcons that included a $2.75-million signing bonus.

The 25-year-old Jackson met with assistant general manager John Idzik on Monday in a last-ditch effort to determine whether the Bucs could put together a similar package to keep him in Tampa Bay.

But after re-signing linebacker Shelton Quarles and adding Giants guard Jason Whittle and Jaguars center John Wade, the Bucs' offer of around $1.5-million per year fell short of Jackson's market value.

Tampa Bay reportedly is just $560,000 below the $75-million salary cap.

Hoping to cash in on the two interceptions that earned him the Super Bowl MVP after the Bucs' 48-21 victory over the Raiders, Jackson visited the Steelers on March 3 and followed that with a visit to the Cardinals on Thursday.

He appeared to be leaning toward signing Tuesday with the Steelers, a team that could offer him another shot at a championship. But the Cardinals reportedly had increased their offer in terms of guaranteed money.

"I have nothing to report just yet," agent Peter Schaffer said Tuesday night. "We're still working on it."

With Jackson gone, the Bucs will turn to third-year pro John Howell or Jermaine Phillips, a second-year player from Georgia, to fill the void at free safety.

On Tuesday, the Bucs began work on their annual call to arms, an offseason ritual aimed at stockpiling quarterbacks to back up starter Brad Johnson.

Visiting One Buc Place on Tuesday was Steelers free agent Charlie Batch.

After spending four seasons with the Lions, Batch served mostly as the Steelers' No. 3 quarterback last season behind Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart. He was inactive for 15 games, and was the backup to Stewart against the Bengals on Nov. 24.

The Bucs are no strangers to Batch, 28, who completed 56 percent of his passes with the Lions for 9,016 yards, 49 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. He has a 76.9 career quarterback rating.

Former Bears quarterback Jim Miller, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, will arrive in Tampa tonight and take a physical Thursday.

The Bucs are considering signing the 34-year-old Miller even though he may not be able to begin throwing until August.

Former Oakland quarterback Bobby Hoying, who played four seasons under Bucs coach Jon Gruden with the Raiders, visited One Buc Place on Monday. Hoying has spent the past 18 months recovering from surgery on his right elbow and was placed on the physically unable to perform list before training camp last season.

Tampa Bay now will turn its attention to re-signing tackle Roman Oben, but a deal might not be completed until next week.

The Bucs may not be done retooling their offensive line. They are considering scheduling a visit with Jets tackle Jumbo Elliott.

The Bucs also would like to re-sign strongside linebacker Al Singleton, who is believed to be considering offers from Dallas and Detroit. In an effort to regain more salary cap room, the team has contacted agent Jerome Stanley about restructuring the contract of receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

It is likely Singleton will join Jackson in leaving the Bucs. But Jackson's departure never appeared in doubt. In Pittsburgh, ironically, he would be replacing safety Lee Flowers, who referred to the Bucs as paper champions.

"I like the way their defense plays," Jackson said of the Steelers. "They remind me of Tampa. Everyone runs to the ball, everyone hits hard and plays with emotion. Everyone flies to the ball. They also are a championship-contending team.

"Actually, they use their safeties a lot more than Tampa, and that's vital. With the player I am, people are starting to notice I make plays on the ball. The way they use their safeties, I can make plays on the ball and that's a big asset."

SAPP MAKES DONATION: Warren Sapp donated $25,000 to the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation to build a new computer lab for a summer camp program. The Bucs defensive tackle will be the guest of honor at a ceremony in Orlando on March 19.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.