Birk takes Ravens' tour

Vikes lineman 'absolutely' considers Baltimore

Jets, Ryan land Leonhard

March 04, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

On a day when the Ravens lost another valuable defensive player to the New York Jets - safety Jim Leonhard - they made a strong push to fill their void in the middle of the offensive line.

The Ravens met with Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl center from the Minnesota Vikings, for a little more than three hours yesterday at team headquarters. And the first free-agent visit of Birk's 11-year NFL career was a memorable one.

Birk's wife, Adrianna, was shown houses in the area. Coach John Harbaugh and other team officials took Birk to dinner. And the team plans to bring him back to the facility today.

So, though he hasn't ruled out a return to Minnesota, Birk said he is "absolutely" considering the Ravens. It is believed Birk will decide whether to sign with the Ravens or Vikings during the next two days.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was a strong possibility," Birk said while standing in the 24-degree weather in a T-shirt. "Me and my wife wouldn't have come out here and looked around" if it weren't a good chance.

The Ravens are looking to replace center Jason Brown, who signed with the St. Louis Rams on Friday. Other than Birk's age (32), he seems to be the Ravens' best option.

At 6 feet 4, 309 pounds, Birk is tough, durable and smart (he's a Harvard graduate). He also would be an experienced leader for a young offensive line.

The question is whether Birk is visiting the Ravens just to drive up the Vikings' offer. Birk grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and has played his entire career with the Vikings.

According to a league source, Birk remains interested in staying with the Vikings and might allow them to match any offer. Interestingly, Birk's agent (Joe Linta) also represents Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Asked about his chances of returning to the Vikings, Birk said: "I don't know. I guess we'll go back and talk about it. ... All I can say is this whole thing has been top-notch from the facility to Coach Harbaugh and Mr. [Ozzie] Newsome, all the way down it's been great. It's kind of been a whirlwind."

Meanwhile, Rex Ryan grabbed another Raven yesterday, when the Jets signed Leonhard to a three-year contract.

Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who is in his first year as the Jets' head coach, signed linebacker Bart Scott last week on the first day of free agency. The Ravens were pessimistic about keeping Leonhard because they couldn't guarantee him a starting job.

Leonhard started 13 games for the Ravens last season because Dawan Landry suffered a season-ending neck injury. Landry is expected to return this season.

Signed in April after a tryout, Leonhard became one of the Ravens' biggest surprises last season. He finished fourth on the team in tackles (85) and sixth in the NFL in punt-return average (11.6 yards). In the divisional playoff win at Tennessee, he was involved in all three Ravens takeaways.

"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."

Note:: The Ravens re-signed cornerback Evan Oglesby and wide receiver Marcus Maxwell.

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