Another one bites the dust.
At the beginning of the offseason, the general consensus was that Matt Birk had played his last game as a Viking. Most Vikings fans wanted him back but figured the price tag would be too steep. Although he's still a great center, Birk hadn't had his best season in 2008, and there were grumblings that he was on the decline. Most people were emotionally ready to let go. Seemed pretty simple.
Of course, with the Vikings, nothing is simple. Earlier this week, there were reports that the Vikings wanted the hometown hero back. Commenters on this site and others started rooting for a deal. Jason Brown, widely regarded as the best available center available in free agency, was already gone to the Rams. Our other options at center, John Sullivan and Ryan Cook (who played center in college) lacked any NFL experience at the position. Maybe Birk in purple for another couple years would actually be our best option.
As it turned out, Birk will indeed be proudly donning the purple next year. Just not the purple we had hoped for.
Personally, I figured Birk was long gone after this season. He had tried to get his contract extended a few times in the past few years, but the Vikings balked each time for various reasons, most of which revolved around injuries. In 2005 he even volunteered to play through a painful injury if the Vikings would extend his contract. Birk didn't receive his contract and missed the only significant playing time of his entire career. That "disrespect" shown by the Vikings would normally be enough for most athletes to demand a trade on the spot. Not Mr. Birk--he quietly returned to the team and excelled for three full years after he came back.
I'm not saying the Vikings were wrong back then or by letting him go now. As great of a player and person Birk is, the NFL is a cold, corporate business at the end of the day. The Vikings deemed it too big of a gamble to keep Team Harvard, and I can't say I blame them.
What I can say is that Matt Birk is the type of athlete that everyone can and should look up to. He played for his hometown team. He was one of the best at his position for a solid decade. He sacrificed money out of his own pocket to rally support for struggling retired NFL players. I know it's a cliché, but screw it: if more athletes were like Matt Birk, the sports landscape would be a better place. It's truly sad to see him leave.
Matt Birk. He went to Harvard. He also went down as one of the great professionals in Minnesota sports history.
Best of luck to you Matt, and I know I speak on behalf of every Vikings fan when I say we've sincerely appreciated everything you've done for the Vikings, the NFL, and community. We'll miss you.
In other free agency news that unfortunately didn't include the Vikings, Devery Henderson re-signed with the Saints and Laveraneus Coles was picked up by the Bengals to replace the void left by T.J. Housh-bag. The free agent pool that wasn't very appealing to begin with is quickly starting to look more and more like one of those kiddie pools with neon yellow tint.
Please leave your comments on what you think the Vikings should do to address the hole left by Birk, the ever-shrinking wide receiver options, or any other free agency issues that are on your mind.