Nickerson signs deal with Packers

Who has a better chance to win the Super Bowl this season? Hardy Nickerson is going with the Green Bay Packers. The veteran middle linebacker signed a contract with the Packers today, giving Green Bay perhaps the final piece to a team that will contend for an NFL title this season.<p>

Nickerson, who made visits last week to Green Bay and Philadelphia, said being on a team that had a chance to win a championship, not money, was a factor in his decision on where to play this season. After mulling over contract offers for the past couple of days at his home in California, Nickerson accepted a one- or two-year deal offered by the Packers, according to reports. It is belived that he will receive a signing bonus of between $250,000 to $500,000 and probably averages around $1.2 million per season, but money isn't everything, Nickerson says.

You always want to be around a great group of guys," Nickerson said earlier this week. "You want to be on a championship team. You want to be a guy that contributes in some way to it, and you want to have the memories.

"At this point, that's what I'm after. Been there, done that with everything else. I want to experience the things you experience as a team, and that's winning a championship."

Philadelphia reportedly offered more money to Nickerson than the Packers, but the Eagles could not guarantee a starting job to him. In Philadelphia, Nickerson would have had to compete against Barry Gardner for a starting job.

Nickerson joins veteran Robert Jones in a battle against second-year pro Torrance Marshall for the starting middle linebacker position in Green Bay. Marshall played with the first team defense throughout the June minicamp, which concluded this morning. Jones played mainly at middle linebacker, but learned the outside positions as well.

"Torrance and Hardy will work together and we'll see what happens," said coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "A lot of things happen before that first ball game. Certainly we didn't bring him in here to be a special teams player for us, as far as Hardy is concerned. I feel very fortunate to get someone of Hardy's character and what he has brought to different teams that he has played on. There have only been positive remarks about Hardy Nickerson. I'm anxious to get that caliber of player in person on our team. How it all pans out, we'll wait and see."

Nickerson, who will turn 37 on Sept. 1, got a $750,000 going away present from the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was the portion of his base salary that was guaranteed and had to be paid when he was released June 3. When he signed as an unrestricted free agent with Jacksonville in 2000, he received a four-year deal that averaged $1 million a year and included a $3.2 million signing bonus.

Nickerson broke the Jaguars' single-season record for most tackles with 230 last year, according to Jaguars statistics, surpassing his previous career-high of 214 recorded in 1993 with Tampa Bay and the previous Jaguars record of 186 by Kevin Hardy in 1998.

In 2000, he played in only six games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, but he returned to play in 15 games in 2001. Nickerson, who spent the previous 13 years with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, had a personal-best three interceptions in 2001.

"He's a five-time Pro Bowl player and has been one of the best linebackers in the league for years," said Marshall. "I'm pretty sure I could learn some things from him. I'm pretty sure he can teach me some things about the game and what it takes to be a successful linebacker."

"He knows how to win," said Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "He's won in the past. He's always been a thorn in our side. He's a guy you enjoy playing against because you have to raise your level of play. Very instinctive. Smart. Like I said, he still can play. I would love to have him. ... Automatically, I think it would make our defense much better."

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