Matt Birk showed up for the first day of Vikings minicamp Friday, as expected. And, par for the course for Birk, he was gracious with his time in answering reporters' questions about his absence from organized team activities (OTAs) the last few weeks.
Birk, the Vikings' Pro Bowl center, is entering his 11th season in the NFL and was the only Viking to miss all of the voluntary OTA sessions. Minicamp practices are considered mandatory.
Birk is also entering the final year of his contract, one that comes with a base salary of $5.32 million.
"A lot has been made of the fact that I didn't receive a contract extension. That was just a part of my decision-making process in not coming to OTAs," Birk said. "I consider myself very lucky to be a part of this team and play football for a living. I feel more blessed with my family. It's a busy time. … "
"Was I upset about the contract situation? I'm very happy with my contract. I've never beefed about my contract and I'm very happy about this year. I just have a desire that I want to be here for as long as I play. I would think that if I didn't want to be here, that would be more troubling."
Birk said he wants to continue playing in the NFL beyond this season and he would prefer to stay in his home state of Minnesota. Birk and his wife Adrianna are expecting their fourth child next week.
"Maybe it's just the opportunity to be here, play at home with my parents and my family and my friends, I approach it the same way I did 11 years ago – just thankful for the opportunity. There is nothing owed to me," he said.
Vikings coach Brad Childress said at the NFL owners meetings that he had met with Birk a couple of times surrounding the Easter holiday, but the Vikings still haven't made a legitimate offer to extend his contract beyond the 2008 season.
"We'll take that after 2008," the head coach said in March when asked whether he would like Birk back after the 2008 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 acknowledged that he and Childress have talked this offseason.
"We've talked numerous times and I think we both know where each other stands. I know that I respect him. I think he respects me. The most important thing is that we both want to win," Birk said.
"It's not personal. I'm never going to begrudge anybody for what they feel is best for the team."
Ironically, Birk used a phrase nearly identical to the one that Childress used earlier this week when the Vikings were building a playground for a charter school in Minneapolis.
Childress was asked why he was mixing concrete instead of doing lighter duty at that event. "Everyone is useful, no one is necessary. The more you can do, the better off you are," he said.
Said Birk of his outlook on his career: "The thing I've learned is that every single person in the NFL is replaceable. Everyone is useful, but nobody is necessary. It doesn't matter who you are. I know I can be replaced quickly. I don't lose sight of that."
Birk reiterated several times over the course of an interview with reporters on Friday that he is thankful for his time in the NFL up to this point.
"When I take a step back and look at it, I have nothing to complain about," he said. "In 1998, I just wanted a chance, just a chance somewhere to play and I never lose sight of that. Eleven years later, to be with this team, I'm extremely fortunate. Whatever happens, happens. The powers that be and my agent, they can do business or whatever. My job is to play football and take care of business on the field."
With his first organized practice since last season only hours away, Birk said he would find out what kind of football shape he is in. He has been working out with former Viking Mike Morris to keep up his strength, but he admitted that the only way to be in football shape is to practice and play football.
But he has appreciated the time to get away from football and tend to family matters.
"The time you have to put into this during the season is non-negotiable," he said. "There are a couple of factors, the biggest one being my family. It's a busy time, it's a blessed time for us. But I felt like I was just needed there a little bit more."
He also indicated he would report to training camp, even with the timing of the report date conflicting with his birthday on July 23.
"That's kind of a bummer," said the 31-year old. "But I don't foresee any problems with me going there as long as there is a birthday cake or something."
Birk Reports, Comments on Absence
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