Matt Birk has recently announced that he will not retire this year and wishes to return to the NFL next season. With this news one would speculate that he would be returning to Baltimore to play for the Ravens.
The Ravens currently have no starting center for the 2012 season. There has been much talk of either drafting a center early in this years draft or retaining the services of Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode or both. However, now with Birk ready to sign on for one more season their problem at center is solved, right?
I'm not so sure. Matt Birk has been an excellent center throughout his NFL career but the tough work of an NFL offensive lineman has definitely taken it's tole on the Harvard graduate. Birk may do well at first with an entire off season to mend his many ailments but I do not think his body can hold up for another season, plus playoffs.
Part of the reason for Birk's un-retirement is due to a conversation he had with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Birk's agent Joe Linta said this to the media after the meeting.
"Matt and John had a good meeting, and Matt came out of it feeling good that they wanted him back," Linta said. "Age is only a number."
After the interview John Harbaugh seemed equally optimistic about the return of Birk.
"We want to have him back if he wants to come back," Harbaugh said. "We’ll see what he does. He got through the year healthy, and we think he can still play. We need a center, and he’s a great guy. He’s the Man of the Year. We want him back."
I know it is always the most recent memory of someone that sticks in your mind the most but all I can think of when I think about Birk is him getting manhandled by Vince Wilfork against the New England Patriots. Vince Wilfork is a great player and a load for any lineman to handle but he made Birk look pretty bad. I have to think that a lot of that has to do with Birk's age and all the wear and tear of an entire season plus sum and not just Wilfork's dominance.This will be Birk's 15th NFL season. At the age of 35 that is a lot of time getting hammered by the biggest guys on the field.
With all that said I am not completely against the idea of bringing him back. I was a bit interested to see how Andre Gurode would do but Matt Birk is an extremely intelligent player and can improve the line with his knowledge and experience. I only hope that the team does not consider this problem solved with his return. The Ravens will have to bring in a viable option to play behind Birk. Someone who is ready to step in and not miss a beat.
Although Birk has started 97 consecutive games, with his advanced age the Ravens will have to prepare for the fact that he may not be able to last an entire season playing at the highest level. The biggest thing may be the money it would cost to keep two starting caliber centers on the roster. It is too important of a position to have uncertainty. The only way to make that possible may be to do it through the draft. We know the Ravens will be drafting a lineman if not multiple. It could serve them well to look for a versatile interior lineman that can play multiple positions so if they lose Ben Grubbs and Birk has any issues they have more options to work with.
Oh, and by the way, welcome back Matt!!