The Song Sounds the Same

One of the most popular players in the history of the Minnesota Vikings may not finish his career with the team. Much like Alan Faneca, there's another 31-year old offensive lineman who may have to move on.

PALM BEACH, Fla. - There's the common adage in the NFL and in life: "All good things must come to an end."

We saw long-time Pittsburgh Steelers guard Alan Faneca, after 10 seasons with the team, leave via free agency to sign with the New York Jets after not receiving a contract proposal from the team that drafted him since last August.

In the case of Minnesota Vikings C Matt Birk, his contract ends after the 2008 and his future with the team remains very uncertain.

Vikings head coach Brad Childress spoke on Wednesday from the NFC coaches breakfast about Birk's future with the team for the first time since last season.

"We'll take that after 2008," the head coach said when asked whether he would like Birk back after this coming season is over. "That's the mode he's in. He's in the longest-running contract currently in the National Football League. He had an eight-year deal. He's in year eight of his deal. When you look at how those numbers get funny, if you will, nobody ever expects to pay year five, six, seven or eight – those are for the agents, they always say – I think he's making good money right now, as he would tell you. We'll see if he comes back."

Birk is an immensely popular player whom Childress would like to see during the team's off-season program. Birk has chosen, at least so far, to work out on his own, which he can do without penalty since these off-season conditioning programs are deemed voluntary workouts. The two men spoke twice recently.

"It's his decision. Certainly I'm a guy that would love to mother-hen it, would love to have everybody there in one big happy family. Matt knows this because I said that to him. I said, ‘You can do that individually and that's fine. But team-wise, that may or may not be what's best for the team."

Birk was drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings in 1998 and has parlayed the opportunity into a 10-year career that includes six selections to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. He has helped pave the way for four of the five top single-season rushing performances in team history and was named the Vikings Man of the Year for 2007 for the sixth season in a row.

Despite Birk's past accomplishments, Childress isn't looking at the center's off-season absence as a negative.

"I look at the upside of that. He was a willing participant in the off-season program last year, working out with (former Vikings long snapper) Mike (Morris). I look at the upside of that, being that it gives other people the opportunity to get in there. … It's a positive from that standpoint. When you dress seven offensive linemen, it's nice to watch guys jump around and play different roles. Invariably, come Sunday, you're going to be down to five like we were last year at Miami."

A key to this situation is what Minnesota does in regard to the center position in this month's draft.

As of now, starting right tackle Ryan Cook, backup center Dan Mozes, and starting right guard Anthony Herrera are candidates to fill in for Birk.

"And then we'll see what the other guys can do," Childress added.

Cook played center in college and it was believed he was selected to play the position at the pro level. He played center during Senior Bowl practices as well.

"We did draft him as a center because that's where you see him play (in college), but we felt like he had long enough arms and had good enough movement and had a good enough anchor that he could kick out and play tackle," Childress said. "But yet it's rare that you have a tackle that can kick in and play center and make the calls. We believe he can do both, and it's a bonus that he's been able to start and get pretty good out there playing at the right tackle."

Cook will remain at right tackle for 2008 but past that, his position doesn't appear to be locked in.

"It depends on how we draft. There are just too many moving parts. Anthony Herrera had a very good season at the right guard position, but if we go through OTAs (organized team activities) and that's the guy that's clearly the best center - if Matt Birk got hurt in the first game, you say, 'OK, who would you move in at right guard?" Childress explained.

Even though Birk's future replacement might not currently be on the team and may not be after this month's draft, Childress still isn't willing to commit to the St. Paul native past this coming season.

"Just the fact that we usually get into those things as we head into the year," the head coach said after a long pause to seemingly choose his words carefully. "He's been a loyal guy; he's been a good football player. He's a Pro Bowler. Just the fact that you want to see how a guy comes in and starts to play into this season. He may afford us the opportunity to re-sign him or he may stick his nose up in the air. I just want to watch him play, that's all. I think people make a lot of it. He's got a contract - he's got a good contract. Everybody wants to get a little ahead of themselves. We're a little like Alcoholics Anonymous that we're day to day. One day at a time."

Birk's long-time agent, Joe Linta, didn't seem too surprised and offered a whimsical response to Childress' comments.

"Well it's disappointing to hear that. I guess his 10 percent discount to Matty B's Supper Club may not be honored," Linta told

Should Birk be playing elsewhere in 2009 and beyond, we wonder if he'll offer his next head coach the discount.

Note: Viking Update's Tim Yotter contributed to this report.

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