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Birk headed to Baltimore

March 4th, 2009 – 3:25 PM by Judd Zulgad

Longtime Vikings center Matt Birk agreed to a contract with the Baltimore Ravens this afternoon. The three-year deal is worth $12 million with $6 million guaranteed.

Birk, a St. Paul native, has been with the Vikings since the 1998 season and is a six-time Pro Bowl selection. Birk had an offer on the table from the Vikings and left for a visit with the Ravens on Tuesday.

Birk said last night he was very impressed with what he saw. That must have been the case. Birk will take over for Jason Brown, who left as a free agent to sign with the St. Louis Rams. John Sullivan is now atop the Vikings depth chart at center.

Birk, 32, was a sixth-round pick by the Vikings out of Harvard in 1998. Birk took over as the Vikings center in 2000 and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He started all 16 games in 2001, 2002 and 2003 before missing four games in 2004 during the regular season while coming back from hernia surgery. He missed the entire 2005 season after having hip and sports hernia injuries following training camp. Birk hasn’t missed a start since the 2006 season.

A product of Cretin-Derham Hall, Birk was popular in part because of his success on the field and also because he became a local celebrity. He made frequent appearances on local radio and television and also had his name on two local restaurants.

Birk’s agent, Joe Linta, said Tuesday whether Birk remained in Minnesota or went to Baltimore was, “a decision Matt has to make based on his relationship with the Vikings and based on what he has down there [in Baltimore].”

In other words, it went well beyond money. Birk and his wife, Adrianna, made their home in St. Paul with their four children and the obvious preference would have been to remain in the area. However, it became clear that Birk and the Vikings organization weren’t completely on the same page when Birk decided to stay away from Winter Park for all offseason activities, except the mandatory three-day minicamp in June. Instead he worked out with former Vikings long snapper Mike Morris.

Birk made $5.7 million in 2008 in the last season of a seven-year, $31 million extension he had signed in September 2001. Many thought the Vikings would have tried to lock up Birk last summer or even during the 2008 season but that did not happen. Birk, in his typical good-natured way, downplayed the importance of his absence.

“It was kind of silly,” he said last summer in an interview with the Star Tribune. “One, I’m a center. I’m not the cornerstone of the franchise for crying out loud. I said, ‘OK, I’m not getting any extension, I’ve got three little kids at home driving my wife nuts and I’ve got a fourth one coming. Mike Morris is a really good friend of mine and I really like working out with him.”

There was some thought that if Birk did not return to the Vikings that he would retire but he made it clear after the season that would not be the case.

 

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