OWINGS MILLS – Intent on fortifying their offensive line following the departure of Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs, the Baltimore Ravens agreed to a three-year contract with center Matt Birk and have offered a contract to Philadelphia Eagles free agent guard Evan Mathis.
The Ravens also retained starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie by picking up his $500,000 roster bonus. He’s due to make a $3.2 million base salary next season.
Birk, 35, had contemplated retirement after the AFC championship game, but the Harvard graduate informed the Ravens at the NFL scouting combine that he wanted to continue his career as he enters his 15th NFL season.
“The Ravens came through with a fair situation for Matt that we were comfortable with,” said Joe Linta, Birk’s agent. “Matt’s excited to be back.”
The deal isn’t signed yet and Birk still has to pass his physical.
Birk is the first veteran free agent the Ravens have retained since free agency launched Tuesday.
Since Tuesday, five free agents have left the defending AFC North champions.
That includes Grubbs (New Orleans Saints, five years, $36 million), outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (San Diego Chargers, four years, $19 million), defensive end Cory Redding, (Indianapolis Colts, three years, $10.5 million), and safeties Haruki Nakamura (three years, $5.5 million) and Tom Zbikowski (Colts, three years). Zbikowski’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, has emphasized that the contract isn’t finalized.
Birk has played for the Ravens for the past three seasons and has started 97 consecutive games, the best among NFL centers.
“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. “He is a top player, his intelligence is obvious, and he is a leader on and off the field.”
Meanwhile, Mathis returned home Friday to Arizona after his visit to the Ravens’ training complex to discuss his options with his family. The Eagles remain in the running for Mathis and could opt to match the Ravens’ offer.
“The Ravens offered me a nice deal,” Mathis told 24×7. “I had a great visit. I really liked. I’m going to think about it this weekend. The Ravens have a wonderful organization. I appreciate the welcome and the hospitality.”
Mathis, 30, started 15 games last season at left offensive guard and graded out as the top left guard in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mathis is the top offensive guard available now that Grubbs has signed a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is known for his athleticism.
A former Carolina Panthers third-round draft pick who has also played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, Mathis has started 37 career games and thrived last season under the tutelage of Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
He allowed no sacks and committed one holding penalty last season, and hasn’t given up a sack since six years ago.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins have also been linked to Mathis, but he’s expected to choose between the Ravens and Eagles.
“I think the Ravens are a good fit,” Mathis said. “I had a good visit.”
McKinnie met with team officials Thursday to discuss his status and the meeting resulted in him being retained. McKinnie, 32, has dropped weight since last season.
The 6-foot-8, 360-pounder was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last season when he reported at 387 pounds, but quickly got in better shape and started every game for Baltimore.
McKinnie didn’t grade out as highly as the team would like as a run blocker, and the Ravens are expected to address offensive line in the draft. Among the potential candidates, Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, Georgia offensive guard Cordie Glenn and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams.
The Ravens have also scheduled former Houston Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston for a visit.
Winston visited the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday, and the Chiefs are attempting to lock him up.
Ravens free agent linebacker Jameel McClain completed his visit with the Denver Broncos and remains available. McClain has expressed interest in returning to Baltimore.
As for Nakamura, he’s slated to compete for the Panthers’ starting free safety job with Sherrod Martin.
A former sixth-round draft pick who primarily played on special teams, Nakamura, 25, was looking for an opportunity for increased playing time after backing up Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.
Nakamura has played in 56 games with 23 tackles, four pass deflections as well as an interception in a playoff game. He finished tied for second on the team in special-teams tackles last season.
Nakamura received $1.3 million in guaranteed money.
“It’s all about opportunity,” Nakamura said before free agency started. “It’s not necessarily all about money. “
The agent for quarterback Joe Flacco held a meeting with Ravens vice president of football administration for six hours Thursday. The reigning AFC North champions hope to sign Flacco to a long-term contract extension as he heads into the final year of his rookie deal.
This marks their second meeting since an initial talk at the NFL scouting combine.
“It was a good meeting with Pat,” said Linta, who plans to continue meeting with Moriarty to advance the discussions. “Things are going well so far. We have a lot of heavy lifting to do, but we both want the same thing: for him to be there for a long time. We’re both pushing for that. There’s a lot of stuff to do to get that done."