OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens are making a strong push to try to land Minnesota Vikings six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk as the veteran blocker arrived at team headquarters Tuesday afternoon with plans to stay overnight.
Birk and his wife, Adrianna, had dinner with coach John Harbaugh and other team officials while his agent, Joe Linta, negotiated simultaneously with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Vikings in what is shaping up as a two-team battle.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was a strong possibility,” Birk, a 6-foot-4, 309-pound offensive lineman, told two newspaper reporters Tuesday night following a visit that’s scheduled to continue today. “I have four small kids. Me and my wife wouldn’t have come out here and looked around [if there wasn’t a strong possibility].”
Although the Ravens are making their bid on Birk, the Vikings are expected to be willing to match virtually any offer and are determined to hold onto the Minneapolis native. Birk could replace last year’s starting center, Jason Brown, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.
“Matt had a good visit,” Linta said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “He had a great visit with coach Harbaugh and [offensive line coach] John Matsko and was very impressed with the facility.
“He is about to embark on the toughest decision of his professional life. He wants to mull it over. Somebody is probably going to be upset at him when it’s over.”
It’s believed that the Ravens have a good chance to sign Birk, but it’s not a lock because of the lure of remaining in Minnesota as well as the Vikings’ advantageous salary-cap situation. Birk’s agent also represents Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco.
Birk, 32, has spent 11 seasons in Minnesota after being drafted in the sixth round out of Harvard in 1998.
When asked if the Vikings were going to have the opportunity to retain him, Birk replied: “I don’t know. I guess we’ll go back and talk about it and see what it is and make a decision based on that. All I can say is this whole thing has been top-notch from the facility to coach Harbaugh and Mr. Newsome. All the way down, it’s been great. It’s kind of been a whirlwind.”
Birk was named to his sixth Pro Bowl last season, which ties Vikings legend Mick Tinglehoff for the most Pro Bowl selections by a Minnesota center.
Bir k donated $50,000 last year to the Gridiron Greats, a program that helps out former NFL players in need financially and medically. He mailed a letter to every NFL player asking that they make a contribution to benefit retired players who have fallen on hard times, but just roughly 20 players made donations.
If the Ravens don’t sign Birk, they could go with former second-round draft pick Chris Chester at center or shift right guard Marshal Yanda inside. It’s considered more likely they would install Chester.
The Ravens are doing whatever they can to convince Birk to sign. He toured their $35 million training complex and met with the coaching staff and Newsome while his wife was shown around the community, including local real estate.
The Minnesota native obviously wasn’t bothered by the chilly Maryland weather, wearing a T-shirt and no jacket as he left the building.
“Everything is pretty great,” Birk said. “It’s an impressive place.”
Meanwhile, the New York Jets signed Ravens free agent strong safety Jim Leonhard to a three-year contract expected to pay him an average of $3 million annually. The Ravens didn’t attempt to re-sign Leonhard.
Leonhard started 13 games last season for Baltimore in place of an injured Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion), recording 85 tackles and registering one interception and a sack. He averaged 11.6 yards on 20 punt returns and 20.4 yards on kickoff returns.
In the playoffs, Leonhard excelled with 16 tackles, a half-sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. The Denver Broncos made a late bid to get Leonhard to change his mind, but he stuck with the Jets and is now reunited with former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
“I’ve liked Jim since his days at Wisconsin and was excited when we were able to bring him to Baltimore last season,” Ryan said in a statement. “He was everything I expected him to be in 2008 when he bailed us out at safety after we had some injuries.
“He’s a smart player that can get guys lined up in the secondary and was one of the best tacklers on that Ravens defense. He’s always around the ball, brings everything he has on every play and will be a great addition to our group of defensive backs.”
NOTES: It’s believed that the Ravens remain interested in Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith, but preliminary talks haven’t resumed. … Contrary to reports, the Jets haven’t signed Ravens free agent cornerback Corey Ivy. And they may not sign him following his visit last Friday when free agency began. … There were no new developments regarding stalled talks between star middle linebacker Ray Lewis and the Ravens. … The Ravens have re-signed two restricted free agents that weren’t tendered a qualifying offer last week: cornerback Evan Oglesby and wide receiver Marcus Maxwell.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.