Show him the money

Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk will try to play through the pain of a torn labrum in his hip this season if the team guarantees the Pro Bowler’s contract for 2006, the player’s agent said Wednesday night.

Birk needs surgery to repair the injury to his left hip, which came about as a result of his early return from a torn labrum and sports hernia in his right hip. The four-time Pro Bowl center has been cleared to play with the injury with the help of painkilling injections.

“He’s happy to play when he shouldn’t be playing, but he wants assurances that he will be with the team next season before that happens,” Birk’s agent, Joe Linta, told The Associated Press late Wednesday night. That would guarantee his nearly $4 million salary that is due him for the 2006 season. If the Vikings do not guarantee his contract, Linta said, Birk will have surgery that would keep him out of action for about three months.

Guaranteed contracts are a pox on sports – one of the many reasons why the NFL is far and away the best professional league – but in this case, considering what is at stake, Birk’s request for a guarantee is totally reasonable. Considering how he’s willing to let the Vikings rescind the guarantee if he ends up needing surgery, it should be an absolute no-brainer for the team’s management.

It’s not quite a make-or-break year for the Vikes, but having Matt Birk at center gives them a much better opportunity of winning an NFC that looks very up for grabs. Birk is smart, loyal and an All-Pro center. They can’t possibly screw this one up… can they?