Wooing works

The Baltimore Sun

As the Ravens secured Ray Lewis' legacy here yesterday, the team was able to pry free-agent center Matt Birk away from the Minnesota Vikings.

Birk, a native of St. Paul, Minn., had played his entire 11-year NFL career with the Vikings. Some league insiders speculated that Birk was using the Ravens to drive up Minnesota's offer, but Birk surprisingly decided to join the Ravens after a persuasive two-day visit.

The six-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman will sign a three-year, $12 million deal, which includes $6 million guaranteed. Birk will earn $9 million in the first two years of the contract, which is believed to be similar to the Vikings' offer.

Birk, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, will be introduced at a news conference today.

"To add a player like Matt, who will also give us outstanding leadership, makes us a better team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're not standing pat. We're moving forward and getting better."

Birk was the Ravens' best option at center, and they let him know it. The team gave his wife a tour of area houses, and Harbaugh took Birk and his wife to dinner Tuesday night.

Known as a tough and smart leader, Birk appears to be a solid fit for a young offensive line. He replaces Jason Brown, last year's starting center, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract that includes $20 million in guaranteed money with the St. Louis Rams.

A sixth-round choice out of Harvard, Birk replaced Jeff Christy as the Vikings' center in 2000. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Though Birk is seven years older than Brown - he'll be 33 by the start of the regular season - the Ravens don't lose any bulk in the middle. At 6 feet 4, 309 pounds, Birk should be stout enough to match up against AFC North nose tackles.

But the biggest challenge for the Ravens was getting Birk to leave Minnesota. He went to high school in St. Paul and lived in that area year-round.

Some fans in Minnesota consider him among the greatest players in Vikings franchise history.

"We wanted him to return to the Vikings in '09, but at this point, Matt wanted a change of scenery," Vikings coach Brad Childress said in a statement. "We wish him the best and know that he will always be a part of the Vikings family. We look forward to playing Matt this upcoming season at the Metrodome."


Joe Flacco will be at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., today to make the rounds of various programs. Here is Flacco's schedule:

* 9:40 a.m.: Mike and Mike in the Morning; TV: ESPN2; Radio: 1300 AM

* 10:55 a.m.: First Take, TV: ESPN2

* 11:25 a.m.: The Herd with Colin Cowherd; Radio: 1300 AM

* 12:30 p.m.: ESPN.com chat

* 1 p.m.: ESPNEWS

* 1:25 p.m.: Tirico and Van Pelt;

Radio: 1300 AM

* 4 p.m.: NFL Live; TV: ESPN

(being taped at 1:40 p.m.)

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