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Veteran Birk back with Vikings for minicamp

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings had just finished a walkthrough before their first minicamp, and Matt Birk knew what to do.

After skipping the voluntary portion the team's offseason program to spend time with his growing family and draw attention to his contract situation, Birk dutifully headed toward a sizable group of reporters on Friday to explain.

"A lot's been made of the fact that I didn't receive a contract extension," said the Pro Bowl center, who is entering the final year of an eight-year deal. "That was just part of my decision not to come" to the offseason program.

Career bio:
Games: 130

Starts: 107

Pro Bowls: 6

"I consider myself very lucky to be a part of this team and play football for a living. But I consider myself more blessed with my family and with our situation right now. It's a busy time."

Knowing that the start of his work year -- and all the demands on his time that come with it -- is less than two months away, Birk said he felt it was important to spend that elusive free time with his pregnant wife and three children before starting the grind.

"The time you put into this during the season's not negotiable," Birk said. "There were a couple factors, but the biggest one being my family. It's a busy time, but a blessed time for us. I felt like I was just needed there a little bit more."

Born and raised in St. Paul, Birk grew up dreaming of being a Viking and was a little known sixth-round draft pick out of Harvard in 1998. He blossomed into a six-time Pro Bowler and will make more than $5 million this year.

"I'm very happy with my contract. I've never beefed about my contract at all," Birk said. "I'm very happy about it this year. I want to be here for as long as I play. I would think that if I didn't want to be here, that would be more troubling."

Birk worked out with former Vikings longsnapper Mike Morris this offseason, but Coach Brad Childress didn't hide his disappointment with Birk for skipping the "organized team activities," which are voluntary in name only.

The two kept in touch throughout the spring, making sure both positions were clear.

"We understand where each other are coming from," Childress said Friday. "That's the biggest thing. When you're heard -- his side, my side -- then you're heard and understood. Do you always agree? Not always."

The longest tenured Viking is one of the most respected members of the locker room, and Birk's teammates were not concerned that the issue would drag on into the season.

"We know exactly where his heart is and where his mind is," receiver Bobby Wade said. "There is a business side to it. Everybody understands that as well.

"But when it comes to Matt Birk as a teammate, he's probably one of the best guys we've got in the locker room. So whatever he needs to take care of, he needs to take care of. We know when he's here, he's going to give us everything he's got."

Entering his 11th season, the 31-year-old Birk has played in all 16 games the last two years. He said he isn't sure when he'll retire, but feels fortunate to have lasted this long.

"When I take a step back, I have nothing to complain about," Birk said. "In 1998, I just wanted a chance, just a chance, to play somewhere. And I never lose sight of that. Here I am 11 years later, to be with this team, I'm extremely fortunate.

"Whatever happens happens. The powers that be and my agent, they can do business or whatever. My job is to play football and to take care of business on the field and that's what I'm going to do and just see what happens."

The Vikings have not divulged their long-term plans for Birk and did spend a sixth-round draft choice on Notre Dame center John Sullivan in April. But the organization has a history of signing its veterans to extensions during the season, including guard Anthony Herrera, defensive tackle Pat Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie in the last two years.

"How can I sit here and pout or be upset about anything?" Birk said. "Maybe it's just having the opportunity to play here at home, with my parents and my family and my friends (around). I still feel like I approach it the same way I did 11 years ago. I'm just thankful for the opportunity. I'm not entitled to anything. Nothing is owed to me.

"I know that in this thing the decisions are made all for one reason and that's to win. Hopefully, I'll be a part of it around here but we'll just have to see. It's not personal. I'm never going to be begrudge anybody for doing what they feel is what's best for the team."

Extension or no extension, Birk said he will report to training camp with the team on July 23, which also happens to be his 32nd birthday.

"I don't foresee any problems with me going," Birk said. "As long as there's birthday cake or something."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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