Birk: 'This is a perfect fit'

OWINGS MILLS -- Casting proud glances at his wife and four young children, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk acknowledged that it took a perfect fit to convince him to uproot his family and leave the Minnesota Vikings to sign with the Baltimore Ravens.

Introduced at a press conference by the Ravens Thursday at their training complex after signing a three-year, $12 million contract that included $6 million in guaranteed money and a total of $9 million in total compensation to be paid out in the first two years of the deal, the St. Paul, Minn., native spent 11 years with the Vikings and became a fixture in that community.

Now, Birk, 32, is looking to make an impact with his new football team.

"Professionally, I just think this is a perfect fit," said Birk, whose wife, Adrianna, and their three daughters and one son were seated in the front row as he spoke with Baltimore reporters. "From the second I got here, I could just sense that there's something special here. Personally, for my family and me, we're Minnesota born and bred.

"We'll always be from Minnesota, but this is exciting and a great opportunity. We are leaving our comfort z one and getting a fresh start. It's going to be a great adventure for our family, and we're happy to be a part of the Ravens' family as well."

Birk was so sold on the Ravens that he said he even paid his own way to Baltimore for his visit.

Birk's wife hustled to purchase plane tickets to come back to Baltimore with the kids in tow after accompanying her husband on the first day of his free agent visit Tuesday. She returned to Minnesota on Wednesday while he remained in Baltimore to finalize his contract.

"I think the strength of the organization lies with the people that are in it," Birk said. "I hadn't been a Raven for more than 30 minutes, and Steve Bisciotti called me and congratulated me.

"Just those types of things. I mean, everything's been first-class. I can see why they've had success here. I think there's something special going on."

The Harvard graduate replaces Jason Brown, the Ravens' starting center last season. Seven years younger than Birk, Brown signed a five-year, $37.5 million with the St. Louis Rams that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.

Based on Birk's size, intelligence, skill and experience, the Ravens are certain that they made the correct decision.

"He's our kind of guy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You talk about playing like a Raven: tough, physical, hard-nosed football, smart, intelligent, high-character person. He is a family man, obviously.

"It would be hard fo r me to describe how excited we were in the building when Matt made the decision to become a Raven. We are a better football team today than we were yesterday, by far."

Birk had a similar competing offer to return to Minnesota that's believed to be slightly higher than what he got from the Ravens, but he was adamant that he wasn't using the Ravens to drive up the Vikings' bid.

"That's not why I was here," Birk said. "I told [Harbaugh] coming out here that I was serious about coming here and it wasn't about pitting the two sides against each other.

"Once I got here, I just told the guys I needed a commitment where I knew I wasn't just going to be just a one-year wonder. Once that commitment was there, it was a done deal."

Ultimately, Birk wanted a change of scenery.

A major selling point for Birk was the fact that the Ravens came within one win of reaching the Super Bowl last season during Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco's first season, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game.

"That's huge at this point in my career," said Birk, who holds an economics degree. "It really wasn't a tough decision. It's hard to find a negative, really. I hate to use the word, 'perfect,' but it feels perfect to me.

"What I need to do is I need to fit in here, get to work, see exactly how things are done and fall into line. I'm the new guys, so I have to prove myself and earn everybody's respect."

Birk said the Ravens built a lot of momentum throughout the recruiting process, and the way he was treated reassured him that he was making a good decision to leave Minnesota.

"From the moment we got here, it's just been like a snowball," said Birk, who has the same agent, Joe Linta, as Flacco. "I don't know if I can pinpoint one exact moment, but I've been nothing but impressed.

"The whole time we've been here, it just felt right. When Adrianna went home, she was smiling, she was nodding like, 'Yep.' That was the last blessing that I needed." One reason why the Ravens signed Birk, a muscular 6-foot-4, 309-pounder, is to have him square off with the gargantuan nose guards that populate the AFC North, includingthe Pittsburgh Steelers' Casey Hampton and the Cleveland Browns' Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers.

"It begins with the quarterback on offense," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We think we were able to get that fixed last year with Joe and we're just excited about his future. But once you get that fixed, you have to start thinking of the importance of the offensive line.

"Having a young player like Jared [Gaither] playing left tackle and some young interior guys, we think a big part of the=2 0puzzle is the center position, playing against the people in our division, for the most part 3-4 teams. It's very important to have the center position taken care of."

Added Birk: "It's a challenge. That's appealing. I know Shaun. I've played against Casey Hampton. Those guys are awesome. I know I'm excited to get to work and start proving myself and star t getting ready for that."

Birk is quickly turning the page on the familiar surroundings of Minnesota where he played high school football and emerged as an all-star with the Vikings.

"The opportunity to play 11 years in the NFL back home was awesome," Birk said. "I'll look back on those years fondly. But right now is not a time for me or my family to look back. We're looking forward, and that's why were so excited."

Since free agency began last week, the Ravens have retained All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis with a three-year, $22 million deal, signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Domonique Foxworth and landed Birk.

The Ravens have lost Brown with inside linebacker Bart Scott and strong safety Jim Leonhard signing with the New York Jets.

"We're not done yet," Newsome said. "We're still working the phones. The phones are still hot. We're still trying to improve our football team."

NOTES: Denver Broncos free agent cornerback and special-teams standout Karl Paymah visited the Ravens on Thursday, but wasn't immediately signed.

A former third-round draft pick from Washington State, Paymah has started five games in four NFL season with 101 career tackles and three interceptions.

He registered 39 tackles and one interception last season as he started twice in place of an injured Champ Bailey, but didn't grade out well at cornerback and was replaced by a rookie.

Paymah is also reportedly scheduled to visit the Vikings.

Meanwhile, former Ravens starting quarterback Kyle Boller has reportedly visited the Oakland Raiders.

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

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