Vikings C Matt Birk (Getty Images)
During the process of identifying the Buffalo Bills' biggest positional needs, the Buffalo Rumblings community nearly unanimously listed a pass-rushing defensive end as the one spot where the Bills most desperately needed an upgrade. Tight end, center and linebacker closely followed. We have already begun the process of profiling potential Bills free agents; for reference now and in the future, all of these profiles will be available at this link.
With the NFL's free agent signing period set to begin less than three weeks from today (midnight on February 27), we here at Rumblings continue the process of profiling several top-notch free agents that the community has identified as worthy of donning the red, white and blue in 2009. Buffalo's need at center is as dire as their need at any other position; the only debatable topic is whether or not the position is as important as others where attention is needed. Wherever you may stand on that topic, Vikings C Matt Birk has to be an intriguing free agent option simply because he's a solid player at an area in need of a serious upgrade. The veteran pivot has anchored Minnesota's offensive line for a decade and has earned six Pro Bowl nods during that tenure, but at age 33, the Vikings are reportedly preparing to let the veteran hit the open market.
Age 33 at start of 2009 season
6'4", 309 pounds
11-year NFL veteran out of Harvard
I asked SB Nation's Vikings blogger, Gonzo of the Daily Norseman, if he'd be willing to say a few words about Birk, his playing and abilities and his upcoming free agency. The quality of Gonzo's response to my request, both in writing and in what it says, is too good to split up. Here's his email in its entirety.
Matt Birk has been starting at center for the Vikings since the team let go of Jeff Christy after the 1999 season. Birk is also the last link the Vikings have to the infamous 1998 team that went 15-1 and lost the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons. That was Birk's rookie year, having been selected in the 6th round out of Harvard. He's a local guy, having played his high school ball at Cretin-Durham High School in St. Paul.
He's been selected to the Pro Bowl six times (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007), and was named an All-Pro in both 2000 and 2003. Birk is still a very good blocker, equally adept at run blocking and pass protection, but his greatest strength is what lies between his ears... did I mention that he went to Harvard? Because he did. He's been making the line calls for every different offense that the Vikings have installed since he's been the starter, and was given a lot of credit for the big season that Daunte Culpepper had in 2004, when he set the NFL record for total yardage with 5,123. His play did slip a little bit in 2008, but he's still one of the better centers in the NFL despite that. However, the Vikings are apparently under the impression that said slip is the start of something bigger, and between that and his age (he'll turn 33 this July), the Vikings will more than likely allow Birk to hit the open market.
Birk has been a highly visible figure in the Twin Cities for a long time as well. As you saw from the link above, he's active in the United Way, and he's been named the Minnesota Vikings Man of the Year for six years running thanks to his charitable works. In addition, he was one of three finalists, along with Eagles safety Brian Dawkins and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner for the 2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (Warner wound up named the winner). He's also a spokesperson for the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which has been established to provide financial assistance and coordinate social services for former NFL players that are in need for various reasons. He co-owns two restaurants in the Twin Cities area, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, and lives in the area during the off-season with his wife and his four children.
If a team is looking to upgrade at center this off-season, they could do far worse than Matt Birk. He could very well be the best available center in free agency this free agency season, and if the Vikings DO allow him to hit the open market, the odds are pretty good that he won't last very long. He's a damn fine player on the field and, quite possibly, a better person off of it.
Does Birk "Fit the Bill"?
In a word, absolutely. I've been of the opinion all along that
if when the Bills address their need at center, it should be done with a veteran. Seriously, we can't have a rookie trying to block the likes of Kris Jenkins, Vince Wilfork and Jason Ferguson next season. That's a bad idea. Birk is a wily veteran that has paved the way for one of the league's most explosive rushers (Adrian Peterson) over the last two seasons. Set aside notions that he's on the decline; that shouldn't matter much, because he's not likely to get a super long-term deal anywhere. As a 3-4 year stopgap, Birk makes a ton of sense, and it'll allow the Bills to be more flexible on draft day. Birk and Jason Brown are both extremely intelligent investments in my book.
Any thoughts on Birk that you'd like to add? Vote in the poll, and let's talk some about Matt Birk this fine Saturday. Many thanks to Gonzo for the valuable insight!