General manager/executive vice president Ozzie Newsome's opening statement:
"I'd like to begin, basically, with the philosophy of myself, John [Harbaugh] and the offensive staff. As you know, it begins with the quarterback on the offense. We think we were able to get that fixed last year with Joe [Flacco], and we're just excited about his future. But once you get that fixed, you have to start thinking of the importance of the offensive line. Having a young player like Jared [Gaither] playing left tackle and some young interior guys, we think a big part of the puzzle is the center position, especially with what Cam [Cameron] and Hue [Jackson] ask our players to be able to do, playing against the people in our division, for the most part 3-4 [defensive scheme] teams. It's very important to have the center position taken care of. It was an unfortunate thing, but it's part of our business in losing Jason Brown. But to be able to have Matt pay his own way in, he and his wife to come in and visit with us, get the opportunity to sit down with John, with Cam and John Matsko, Hue and the whole staff… Wade Harman, who knew him from Minnesota, to take the opportunity to sit down with everyone and to see if this was a situation he would be willing to move his family from [Minnesota], because he is originally from Minnesota. So, it was a big step on his part. I think he came in, and it is a credit to everybody in the building that Matt is sitting here today and has signed a contract to become our center. That being said, John, I turn it over to you."
Head coach John Harbaugh's opening statement:
"From a football perspective, we've had a chance to study Matt in-depth. He took me all the way back to the Pro Bowl one year. I was the special teams coach one year [representing Philadelphia], and it might have been one of your many Pro Bowls… Was it your first one? (Birk answers, 'No, but it was a long time ago.') Well, they told us Matt was a long snapper, and as a special teams coach I'm all excited. But on the first day, he reminded me that he had never did it in his life. (Matt replies, 'You were lied to – not by me.') We found a guy who could do it. So obviously, he is a proven football player, not just from a pure football perspective, but everything we do, we try to make our football team better. One move to the next, one year to the next, we try to improve what we're doing offensively, defensively and on special teams. We think this improves our football team, improves our offensive line and makes us better – bottom line. Not just that, but he's or kind of guy. You talk about playing like a Raven – tough, physical, hard-nosed football, smart, intelligent, high-character person. He is a family man, obviously. This is our kind of guy. We couldn't be more excited. It'd be hard for me to describe how excited we were in our building yesterday when Matt made the decision to become a Raven. I mean, the place was up for grabs, wasn't it coaches? (Coaches reply, 'Yes!') We couldn't be more thrilled or more excited. We think we're moving forward. We are a better football today than we were yesterday, by far."
C Matt Birk's opening statement:
"I probably can't adequately describe how excited I am to be here and [with] my family. It's been a crazy couple days for me, but for my wife, Adrianna, she actually left yesterday to go home to be back with the kids. Yesterday about 4:30, I told her that I'm a Raven, and she threw a suitcase together and took the kids to the airport. Didn't even have any tickets. She found tickets and flew out here last night to be here. Obviously, I'm lucky in that regard as well. I'm so excited. Professionally, I just think this is a perfect fit. From the second I got here, I could just sense that I really feel like there's something special here. And I'm excited. Personally, for my family and me, we're Minnesota born and bred. We'll always be from there, but this is exciting and a great opportunity. We are leaving our comfort zone and getting a fresh start. I think that's important. It's going to be a great adventure for our family, and we're happy to be a part of the Ravens' family as well."
You said you're Minnesota born and bred. Did a day like this ever seem conceivable two or three years ago?
(BIRK) "I don't know. The one thing being around in the NFL for a while is that crazy things happen. I believe everything happens for a reason. I talked to coach [Harbaugh], and we flew out here. Like I said, we were just impressed. We were more impressed with every minute that went by. This really is unbelievable. The strength of every organization is the people, and everyone we've met is first-class, high-class all the way. When you know, you know. When something feels right, then it feels right. We're pumped."
Was there something in Minnesota where you felt like you were being taken for granted?
(BIRK) "It's not like I was on the fast track to the NFL [coming out of Harvard]. I've taken a unique route. The one thing about that, I've never taken the opportunity for granted. Just the opportunity to play in the NFL is fantastic. The opportunity to play 11 years in the NFL back home was awesome. I'll look back on those years fondly. But right now is not a time for me or my family to look back. We're looking forward, and that's why were so excited."
Was there a time or instance the past couple days when you said, 'Yeah, I really want to be a Raven,' to yourself?
(BIRK) "From the moment we got here, it's just been like a snowball. I don't know if I can pinpoint one exact moment, but I've been nothing but impressed. It just felt right. The whole time we've been here, it just felt right. When Adrianna went home yesterday morning, she was smiling, she was nodding like, 'Yep.' That was the last blessing that I needed."
What stock do you put into finding players who can compete against the other individuals in the division?
*(NEWSOME) *"Well, that's a good question. Matt has had to block Pat Williams and Kevin Williams for the last two years up in Minnesota every day. So, he's used to dealing with big, physical interior players. In their division, they have some big physical interior players also. He knows who Shaun Rogers is. He's played against Shaun Rogers twice a year when Shaun was in Detroit. From a physical standpoint and a football standpoint, it counts a lot. But where we are with our football team, I think we always try to have a balance. You always want to have young, emerging players, but you also have to have veteran players that can be great role models for those younger, emerging players. Willie [Anderson] did a great job for us last year, and [it's good] for us to bring in someone like Matt Birk to add to that and someone that Joe Flacco can have a comfort level with, as far as him, handling the protections, knowing how to make all the calls and all of those things. That's important. It's the physical and mental aspect that we look at, and sometimes we cannot put the whole puzzle together until we get a chance to sit down and talk with the player as we did with Domonique [Foxworth] and Matt."
Did you call the Vikings to get a counter offer for the Ravens?
(BIRK) "That's not why I was here. I told coach [Harbaugh] coming out here that I was serious about coming here and it wasn't about that or pitting the two sides against each other. Once I got here, I just told the guys I needed a commitment where I knew I wasn't just going to be just a one-year wonder, if I was going to move my family out here. Wherever I went, I was going to take my family with me. Once that commitment was there, it was a done deal."
Do you know QB Joe Flacco, since you share the same agent, Joe Linta?
(BIRK) *"I feel like I know him, since we have the same agent. My agent always brags about him. I probably hear about him a little too much *(laughing). I've never met him. I've only heard all good things, like the kind of person he is and obviously the kind of player he is. It's exciting. I mean, it's exciting for me. At this point in my career, the more young guys I can be around, the better. I think it's good for me, and I'm fired up."
Are you impressed with Matt's character?
(HARBAUGH) *"You really get to know a guy when you get to know a guy. We've heard over the years that Matt has a great reputation around the NFL. It really goes back to when he played at Harvard. Craig Ver Steeg, our offensive assistant, coached Matt back at Harvard, way back when. So, you guys caught up a little bit. Of course, Wade Harman – you were with Wade those years in Minnesota. So, you know the reputation. But when you sit down and spend a couple days with the guy – and these are kind of high-pressure moments – for us, it was important, and for Matt it's important because he's at a crossroads and we're at a crossroad. We're trying to make our team better. So, you get into some pretty intense conversations right off the bat because the rubber meets the road and we need to find out about each other. I think the snowball is a pretty good analogy. Our feelings about Matt snowballed really fast. I think we got more and more excited about him as the day went on. Maybe, I think he felt the same about the Ravens. But by the end of the deal, we just had to have him. I just see so clearly what he's going to do for our football team. For Ozzie, for Eric DeCosta, our personnel people, Vince Newsome, to pull this off is something that's beyond exciting for our coaches. I know John Matsko is probably the happiest guy in the room right now." *(Matsko responds: 'You better believe it, coach!')
Did you put feelers out on Matt? How did this begin and work itself out?
(NEWSOME) *"The process, and we talk about the process, and maybe you all think that's an overused word, but it's not. It is what we do here. Because of the success we had this season, our season ran longer, and then the coaches had to go to the Pro Bowl. Then eventually, before we all left for the Combine, we had a pro personnel meeting. Coaches had had the opportunity to look at guys that could be potential free agents, just as we did on the personnel side. So, we had a chance [to meet and evaluate]. Basically, we built the board. It always starts with our guys. Like we talked about earlier, we like to retain our guys, but we know we can't sometimes. So the board was built. At that point, we take the opportunity and we talk about it. And then, because of the people we have in this building and the people we know in the league, we can start asking questions about the character, what type of work ethic with the players. We continue to build a profile, and before Jason [Brown] signed, yes, there was contact already made with Matt Birk and some other people. He was not the only one, but we tried to find the right fit, and Matt was the right fit for us."*
What is the outlook for the rest of free agency?
*(NEWSOME) *"Oh, we're not done yet. I can tell you that. We feel like we brought in two quality people and quality players, and being able to retain Ray [Lewis] is a bonus, but we're still working. Vince and Eric and the coaches, we're still working the phones. The phones are still hot. We're still trying to improve our football team because what I would like to do is have us in a position that when we go into the draft at the end of April, and whoever that player is, we can take him because he's just going to add to our football team. We're doing some things right now to make the draft just be a major plus for us, and we have no needs."
Was seeing a facility like this a factor in your decision to sign with the team?
*(BIRK) *"Well, this facility is legendary. Everyone's telling me how great it was going to be, and you pull up and I mean, it's wow. I think that just speaks to the first-class operation they're running here. It's very impressive. But like I said, I think the strength of the organization lies with the people that are in it. Yesterday I hadn't been a Raven for more than 30 minutes, and Steve Bisciotti called me and congratulated me. Just those types of things. I mean, everything's been first-class. I can see why they've had success here. I think there's something special going on."
The well-publicized effort you did this past year, raising money for retired players – will you still stay active in that effort? What triggered your personal interest in that?
(BIRK) "I'll try to give you the short answer. Yes, I'll stay involved in that. Basically, I really, really like being able to play football for a living. And I know that that's made possible, the money we make as football players, is possible because of the guys that came before us. There's something not right with the way some of those guys have been treated, and I'm just trying to fix it. As a current player, you have a platform, and I'm trying to raise awareness and money for those guys so it's cured."
Was there one player you met that touched you a lot, or was it just observed?
(BIRK) "When I was a rookie in 1998, there were guys on the team that were in the NFL in 1987 and walked the picket lines. Things were really great for players in 1998. They're really great today. Some of those guys from '87 said, 'It hasn't always been like this. You need to realize the price that was paid.' You think about guys striking and going out there with families. They weren't making the money we make today, but they were willing to forgo their income to fight for better rights for players. A lot of those benefits, a lot of those players that walked the line, they never saw [the money]. It was a very selfless thing that they did. I just feel like it's the right thing to do."
You've worked with new quarterbacks in the past, but can you describe the process that it's going to take for you in this offseason to get acclimated to Joe Flacco?
(BIRK) "Well first, there's obviously the hands (laughter). No, I'm just kidding. As soon as we hook up, I'm sure I'll be asking him a lot of questions. What I need to do is, I need to fit in here, get to work, see exactly how things are done and fall into line. That's what I'm looking forward to. I'm the new guy, so I have to prove myself and earn everybody's respect. For me, that's exciting. When you leave your comfort zone, it's a little bit scary, but I'm certainly embracing the opportunity and approaching it with a lot of enthusiasm."
Do you look forward to the challenge of playing in a division where there are a lot of big 3-4 nose guards?
(BIRK) "Challenge is the right word. It's a challenge. That is appealing. I know Shaun [Rogers]. I've played against Casey Hampton. Those guys are awesome. It's exciting, too. I know I'm excited to get to work and start proving myself, and start getting ready for that."
Are the phones going to be hot toward Terrell Owens now that he's in free agency?
(NEWSOME) "Officially, that player has not been released. There's a process that has to happen as far as the waiver wire, so you can never talk about a player that is still a member of another member club."
How much of the character concept did you bring with you from Philadelphia and Andy Reid?
(HARBAUGH) "I know it's important here. It's always been important to Ozzie and Steve and to the Ravens organization, so it wasn't anything that we 'brought' so to speak. It's always been a part of growing up, as a coach, and that was the number one thing that my dad always talked about. There are plenty of good football players out there, and there are plenty of good football players who are great people. So it's not that hard to find them. Smart guys who are good people tend to do the right thing in high-pressure situations to help you win games. So it's in our best interest to do that."
Can you talk a little bit about your college career at Harvard and when you saw playing in the NFL as a real possibility? What were you prepared to do if you didn't play football?
(BIRK) "Talking about my college career probably wouldn't take very long. I guess about half way through my senior season some scouts started to come around. I thought, 'Wow.' I asked one of them point-blank, 'Do you think I can play in the NFL?' He told me yes, and so I pursued it. Eleven years later, here I am. What would have I done? I majored in economics, and I had a job lined up on Wall Street. Every day when I hit my knees I thank God that I didn't end up there, that I'm able to do this."
(*HARBAUGH) *"Ozzie, that accounts for the contract negotiations."
(NEWSOME) "Yeah I know, exactly."
This was a Ravens team that was a couple of minutes away from being in the Super Bowl. Did that factor into your decision?(BIRK) "That's huge. That's huge at this point in my career. That's just part of it. Everything was a perfect fit here. It really wasn't a tough decision. Like I said, it's hard to find a negative, really, in the team and the way I feel that I can fit here, try to fit in. It's, I hate to use the word 'perfect,' but it feels perfect to me."
I know you still have more to come in the draft and free agency, but at this point, how do you feel about this team?(HARBAUGH) "I feel great about our football team. But, Ozzie says this all the time, and I think it's a great thing for coaches to remember: We don't need to have our team in place until September. So, we're going to take every opportunity between now and September to make our team better, whether it's finding better players, improving the way we coach and getting out there and practicing great. We take every avenue to try to get better, and this is a big step. But, we're definitely looking ahead. We're rubbing our hands together and seeing what we can do next to try to get better."