NORMALLY, TRACY Leinen arranges travel for the Eagles.

Yesterday, she was trying to prevent it.

Leinen, the Birds' director of travel operations, was dispatched to chase down Marlin Jackson as the free-agent defensive back was walking out the NovaCare front door yesterday afternoon, headed for a planned visit with the Jets.

Leinen told Jackson to come back - his representatives had reached agreement with the Birds on a 2-year deal that makes Jackson your starting free safety, heading into the spring.

"They held the limo up and we hammered it out, got it done," said agent Doug Hendrickson, who felt it was more a matter of hashing out details than of resolving huge differences, at the end of a visit that began on Tuesday. "The Eagles definitely stepped up and gave him an excellent deal."

"He wanted to be here and we wanted him here; I don't think he wanted to leave the building . . . We felt it was a good opportunity for both of us," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said.

Asked if he had been promised the starting role, at a position that was a major headache for the Eagles last season, Jackson said: "Nothing's ever promised. I don't like the word 'promise.' Nothing's promised. I have to go out there and earn everything here. [They] gave me a good deal, a quality deal and I feel I have to go out here and prove myself. If I prove myself, I feel that I will be in the starting lineup."

A league source said Jackson, 26, could make $6 million over the life of the deal if he is a healthy starter, $2 million of it in 2010.

"When we watched him on tape, we saw that he had a lot of the traits we look for in a free safety in our defense," Roseman said. "He's instinctive, he's tough, he's quick, and he played a little bit there in Indianapolis . . . we thought it was an easy transition for him . . . he's an aggressive, downhill player. He's fun to watch, actually."

Of course, Jackson, a former starting corner for the Colts, is coming off left ACL surgery in November, which followed his right ACL surgery the previous year, both injuries suffered in practice. The good news might be that he doesn't have any more unrepaired ACLs. And that he certainly knows how to rehab one by now.

Jackson said he feels successful ACL repairs generally don't lead to further problems these days. Told that Eagles fans seem skeptical, given his injury history, Jackson said they shouldn't be.

"I'm confident [reinjury] is not going to happen because I know me. The fans here don't know me, don't know my work ethic, how I approach this game and how positive I am," he said. "I wake up every day and I attack my rehab and I work so that I'll be fine and I'll be out there again. How many times have you heard about a person who's had a clean ACL [tear and repair] then retore it? There's not many times that you can find that situation. I've had two great surgeries. Dr. [James] Andrews did a great job fixing both of my ACLs. I've had outstanding rehabs in both of my legs, and this one right here is ahead of schedule, a lot better than my last one was. I bounced back well from that one."

Roseman acknowledged the Eagles were surprised the Colts didn't tender Jackson, despite the injuries, which limited him to 11 games the past 2 years. The Birds weren't real excited about this group of unrestricted free agents, which Roseman noted yesterday was both shallower and older than previous crops, due to the changes brought about by the expiring collective-bargaining agreement. They have no further free-agent visits pending.

But Jackson said coach Andy Reid did call him more than once before the visit, the only coach from the three teams he was considering - the Ravens, the Eagles and the Jets - who bothered to do that. It seemed clear the past few days that the Birds had serious interest, if Jackson's knees checked out OK.

Roseman called Jackson "a different situation" from guard-tackle Stacy Andrews, last year's big free-agent signing who struggled after ACL surgery (and with learning techniques favored by offensive line coach Juan Castillo), because Jackson "had an ACL in the past, he recovered really well. You get to this point, you see the talent, it was a move that we thought was certainly a risk-reward move here.

"We rely on our medical staff," Roseman said. "We've got a great medical staff here, led by [head athletic trainer] Rick [Burkholder] and our doctors. We're very confident in what they tell us."

Jackson noted that former Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter has gotten both ACLs repaired and has enjoyed good health since - in fact, Buckhalter's last serious knee injury came in 2005.

Jackson, from Sharon, Pa., above Pittsburgh near the Ohio border, said he played free safety his junior year at Michigan, and started eight games there his second year with the Colts. He also has played inside in the nickel.

"I'm very comfortable with it," he said. "I've been a corner, but I've been a nickel back and I've always been a physical corner. So, playing safety, that aspect of the game, the physicality, is nothing new to me. Being inside the box and having to be physical within there, I'm used to those things."

The Eagles miscalculated badly when Brian Dawkins left in free agency a year ago. First they thought second-year safety Quintin Demps would start. When they realized Demps wasn't ready, they went to fifth-round rookie Macho Harris, and then to veteran free-agent signee Sean Jones, who never seemed to get comfortable in the scheme.

Jones, allowed to head back into free agency after a year with the Eagles, currently is visiting with the Bucs.

Asked if signing Jackson makes the Birds less likely to draft a safety early, Roseman said: "All options are on the table."

QB Watch

Two days ago, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio said on a radio show that the Seattle Seahawks have been calling the Eagles about quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.

Yesterday, Comcast SportsNet.com said the Seahawks have been inquiring about Kolb, but not about McNabb.

Strong indications are that Seattle is indeed interested in acquring Kolb - as are other rebuilding teams in a bad draft year for QBs. But there has been no indication that the Eagles are really interested in trading him. They still only have McNabb, who turns 34 in November, under contract for 1 more year. If they felt confident enough in their long-term quarterbacking situation to trade Kolb, they'd surely want McNabb locked up longer than that.

Eagles sources have acknowledged lots of inquiries about the three quarterbacks, including Michael Vick, all of whom are in the final year of their contracts. But no trade seems imminent.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read

the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian,