After suffering five losses in free agency this week, the Ravens have finally retained one of their own by agreeing in principal to a three-year deal with center Matt Birk, the team announced on Friday.
Despite contemplating retirement after the end of the 2011 season, Birk stated his preference was to remain with the Ravens, and it appears as though he will have the opportunity to finish his career in Baltimore. He spent the last three seasons as the starting center in Baltimore after 11 years with the Minnesota Vikings.
The six-time Pro Bowl center will be 36 in July and struggled in the AFC Championship against Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, but Birk had a solid season in 2011 despite missing the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery at the start of training camp. With Birk remaining in Baltimore, the Ravens will return four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season after Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs signed with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.
“One of the things we said earlier this offseason is that we were going to focus attention on the offensive line, and getting Matt Birk back is key for us,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a top player, his intelligence is obvious, and he is a leader on and off the field.”
With veteran backup Andre Gurode an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, the Ravens will unquestionably look to draft a center in April’s draft, with Wisconsin’s Peter Konz being linked to Baltimore’s 29th pick in numerous mock drafts. Newsome said in the team’s end-of-season press conference the Ravens would add another center to the roster for the 2012 season.
Highly respected in the Baltimore locker room, Birk was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last month, recognizing his community service as well as on-field excellence.