Ravens land Vikings' Birk

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens will start their offensive snaps next season with a six-time Pro Bowl selection as Minnesota Vikings veteran free agent center Matt Birk agreed to terms on a three-year, $12 million contract Wednesday afternoon.

Birk, who will be introduced at a press conference this morning at the Ravens' training complex, received $6 million in guarante ed money and will be paid a total of $9 million in the first two seasons of the deal.

Birk, 32, replaces last year's starting center, Jason Brown, a 25-year-old who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract last week with the St. Louis Rams. Birk is expected to inject toughness and experience into the offensive line.

"To add a player like Matt, who will also give us outstanding leadership, makes us a better team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're not standing pat. We're moving forward and getting better."

Birk chose the Ravens over an undisclosed, similar competing offer from the Vikings, who were determined to hold onto the St. Paul, Minn., native and Harvard graduate.

It's regarded as somewhat of an upset that the Ravens managed to sign Birk because it was thought in NFL circles that Birk's preference was to remain with his hometown team for his entire career.

However, as Birk told two Baltmore newspaper reporters Tuesday: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was a strong possibility. I have four small kids. Me and my wife wouldn't have come out here and looked around [if there wasn't a strong possibility]."

According to Birk's agent, Joe Linta, Birk was extremely impressed with Harbaugh, whom he had dinner with Tuesday after the offensive lineman and his wife, Adrianna, arrived in Baltimore.

"Matt had a real tough time with this, but, in the end, coach Harbaugh did a=2 0great job of promoting the merits of the Ravens and their desire to have Matt be a part of their future," Linta said in an e-mail.

A sixth-round draft pick in the 1998 NFL draft, Birk is an imposing blocker at 6-foot-4, 309 pounds and is known for his strength, leverage and intelligence.

Birk started every game for the past three seasons after being sidelined for the entire 2005 season with hip and sports hernia ailments.

Birk has started 123 of 146 career games.

Birk is also extremely active in the community. And he donated $50,000 last year to Gridiron Greats, a program that benefits former NFL players who have fallen on hard times medically and financially and urged every player in the league to donate to the cause.

Because the Ravens have acquired Birk, they won't have to shift former second-round draft pick Chris Chester or starting right offensive guard Marshal Yanda to center. With Yanda expected to recover from a major knee injury suffered last season, Chester could operate as a top reserve at both center and guard.

Meanwhile, the Ravens play the Vikings on the road next season in what promises to be an emotional game for Birk against his former teammates.

"The Minnesota Vikings thank Matt for all he did for the organization both on and off the field over the past 11 years," Vikings coach Brad Childress said in a statement. "Matt has done a great job and we wanted him to return to the Vikings in '09, but at this point Matt wanted a change of scenery.

"We wish him the best and know that he will always be a part of the Vikings family. We look forward to playing Matt this upcoming season at the Metrodome."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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