Matt Birk‘s days in Minnesota may be more numbered than we thought…if we are to take seriously the bit of speculation thrown out by ProFootballTalk about former Browns center LeCharles Bentley being signed to take Birk’s place.
A little background: Bentley, a one-time Ohio State Buckeye, was originally drafted by the New Orleans Saints, for whom he went to two Pro Bowls. He then signed a 6-year, $36 million contract to return to Ohio as a member of the Browns. Unfortunately, Bentley would never play a down for Cleveland. He suffered a serious knee injury during camp ahead of the 2006 season, then contracted a near-fatal staph infection in the same knee. He would end up missing the entire 2007 season as well.
Bentley was hoping to make a comeback with the Browns in 2008. Such a comeback would’ve required him to beat out starting center Hank Fraley however…a long-shot given the four-year deal the Browns signed Fraley to before the 2007 season.
Having read the writing on the wall, Bentley asked for and was given his release by the Browns. The PFT story asserts that Bentley and his agent must’ve had something else lined up, or it would’ve been foolish for them to force their way out of Cleveland hence destroying their chance to showcase Bentley’s recovery to other teams. PFT cast around for a shaky center situation somewhere in the NFL and came up with the Vikings, who have yet to offer a contract extension to Birk, who is set to become a free agent at the end of 2008.
PFT’s proposal: Bentley could be signed to an incentive-laden contract, then compete with Birk in training camp. Should Bentley show himself proficient, Birk could be let go. The Vikings would then have a younger player in Bentley…who, by the way, did pass his physical the other day in Cleveland.
Sounds good…except that Bentley is playing on a knee that was basically eaten away by a staph infection. Birk has become the butt of jokes in Minnesota for all the sports hernia surgeries he’s had over the years, but none of his physical ailments have been nearly as serious as almost having a leg chopped off.
Plus there’s the leadership void that would be created by the jettisoning of Birk. And the fact that you’re trying to bring along a young QB in Tarvaris Jackson…meaning now is probably not the best time to be switching centers.
Even if Bentley did manage to outplay Birk in camp, there are intangibles that make Birk more attractive for this team at this time. The only reason to take a chance on Bentley would be as a long-term guy…and in that regard he is a shaky proposition. It makes more sense to leave Birk in there one more year, knowing you’ll get solid work, and then deal with the center situation after the season.