Have American Idol (search) fans seen the last of Simon?

Simon Cowell (search), the blunt-spoken judge who is arguably the show's biggest star, says he won't be back for the third edition.

But his public statements on his future plans could be part of a strategy aimed at squeezing a big raise out of producers.

"I'd love to be able to say yes [to season 3] . . . but I can't," Cowell said yesterday on the Los Angeles-based morning show Good Day Live.

"Why can't I say yes? I'll tell you what . . . because I can't. And you know it's not about the money anymore."

But on Wednesday evening, just after the high-rated season finale of American Idol 2, Cowell said money did matter.

Talking to reporters after the show, Cowell said he's not leaning toward coming back. He indicated that he would prefer to return to England and renew his career as a record producer.

At the same time, he said he's considering three different talk-show offers in the U.S.

Judge Randy Jackson (search) predicted that all three judges -- including Paula Abdul (search) -- would be back next season. And AI host Ryan Seacrest mocked Cowell's threats as a money grab.

"Simon says he won't be back for season 3 - posturing, posturing," Seacrest said.

Cowell shot back: "Posturing? Well he [Seacrest] needs to posture. I don't. His whole act is a posture."

If Wednesday night was Cowell's last show, the tell-it-like-it-is judge went out with a bang, humorously ripping show producers and Fox executives.

* On the celebrity judges whose input Cowell felt was unnecessary this past season: "It's a great idea. We'll add in celebrity performers, celebrity executive producers, celebrity executives at Fox, and celebrity journalists. We'll all be celebrities!"

* On how Fox milked every moment and dime out of "Idol": "If Fox had their way, it'd be a top 50 [instead of this season's final top 12] next year . . . and no one would get voted off."