Friday, March 16, 2012
Ravens add Birk, short-term security
By Jamison Hensley
The Ravens announced they reached a three-year deal with center Matt Birk, but this represents short-term security for the position.
Birk, who turns 36 before the season, had contemplated retirement the past two seasons before deciding to return. Still, this is the Ravens' first major free-agent addition and one of the more important ones that they'll make this month.
He is the perfect player and teacher as the Ravens make this transition at center. His solid 2011 season was marred by a disastrous game against New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the AFC Championship Game, which wasn't a reflection of his effort all year. According to Pro Football Focus, Birk finished this past season as the sixth-most efficient pass-blocking center, allowing 10 pressures on 584 pass plays (98.6 percent).
One of Birk's best assets is his toughness. Despite injuries to his hip, neck and knee, he has started 96 consecutive games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak among centers. And few can match Birk's character. He was named Walter Payton Man of the Year, the only NFL award that recognizes a player for his community service activities as well as his excellence on the field.
“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 statement released by the team. “He is a top player, his intelligence is obvious, and he is a leader on and off the field.”
The Ravens have to look to the future for the center position, and they've been heavily linked to the draft's top-rated center, Wisconsin's Peter Konz.
The re-signing of Birk stops a run of Ravens' free agents leaving the team: guard Ben Grubbs (Saints), linebacker Jarret Johnson (Chargers), defensive end Cory Redding (Colts) and safeties Haruki Nakamura (Panthers) and Tom Zbikowski (Colts).