Eventually, Matt Birk’s long-term health concerns won out over any NFL machismo to play through the pain for a second season.
Birk, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a local favorite in the community, was cleared to play this season with the aid of painkillers despite a partially torn labrum and would have done so if the Minnesota Vikings would have guaranteed more money in 2006 than the collective bargaining agreement calls for if he can’t play as a result of this injury.
“They would not assure him that he would be there next year, financially or otherwise,” Birk’s agent, Joe Linta told Viking Update.
Linta said he gave the Vikings the opportunity to increase the injury protection that the collective bargaining agreement affords players who can’t play as a result of an injury the previous year. If Birk is unable to play next year, he would receive $250,000 under that provision in the CBA. Linta asked the Vikings to increase that amount to Birk’s guaranteed base salary for next year.
“We asked them, instead of guaranteeing his base salary, how about if you just up the level of his injury protection to his base salary. That way no players are going to come in and say you’re starting to guarantee salaries,” Linta said.
Birk is scheduled to make $3.94 million in base salary next season, according to the NFL Players Association. He is signed through the 2008 season, but NFL base salaries aren’t guaranteed.
Birk is tentatively scheduled to have the surgery to repair the torn labrum in his left hip a day or two after Labor Day, and there is an expected 10-week recovery. Linta said New England Patriots quarterback Jim Miller, whom Linta also represents, had this surgery in May and is fully healed now.
Birk had the same surgery on his right hip in June, and he has had three surgeries since the start of last year’s training camp to repair sports hernias.
“He told the doctors when he had the first one that there was a problem. To be honest with you, they ignored him a little bit,” Linta said.
This time, Dr. Bryan Kelley in New York will be performing the surgery.
He hasn’t practiced in full pads yet this preseason and hasn’t suited up for either of the first two preseason games.
“(It’s) not career threatening right this second, but I guess career-shortening is a better word,” Linta said. “What we’re concerned about is … is he going to be able to get out of the bed in the morning (later in life). Nobody understands the pain he is in and has been in and was in last year. It’s easy for people like you, me and (Vikings vice president of football operations) Rob Brzezinski to say, ‘Oh, hey, play through pain.’ … None of us, unless you’ve played in the pros, understands what’s going on.”
Linta said it was Birk’s decision to fight his way through the pain and play last season.
The Vikings could either opt to carry Birk on their roster for the rest of the season and hope he can return to action in late November, or they could place him on injured reserve, which would end his season. He cannot be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, a six-week designation, because he was recently activated from that list.
Linta also represents Vikings offensive linemen Cory Withrow, Birk’s replacement, Adam Goldberg, Mike Rosenthal and Brandon Newton, along with offensive coordinator Steve Loney and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell.