Opt out? Ravens' Matt Skura proves he has NFL's ultimate all-in family

The largest meal Matt Birk ever ate (1:24)

Former NFL offensive lineman Matt Birk tells a story of eating a massive calzone while in college. (1:24)

The big decision for Baltimore Ravens center Matt Skura was never about whether he would play this season.

The only uncertainty was where his wife, Emma, would give birth.

After the start date for training camp was finally agreed upon by the NFL and the players' union in late July, the Skura family promptly canceled a scheduled labor induction for that week in Charlotte, North Carolina, and caravanned 6½ hours to Maryland. With Skura in one car with the dog, Emma followed with their 2-year-old daughter, Emerson, driving 450 miles in a fully packed Ford Expedition while nine months pregnant.

All of this was done so Skura could report to camp on time and not miss out on being in the delivery room. At a time when 66 players opted out of playing during the coronavirus pandemic, Skura and his family showed how all-in they are for the season.

In a span of a week, Skura moved his family into their suburban Baltimore townhouse, celebrated the birth of his son, Henry, and attended meetings and workouts at the Ravens' facility.

"It’s been such a blur," Skura said. "There’s not too much time to take a deep breath."

Six NFL players, including Eagles wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, opted out because they were concerned about the safety of their newborn children during this pandemic. They will receive a stipend of $150,000, which counts as a salary advance against their tolled contracts.

For Skura, sitting out just wasn't an option. He acknowledged that he might have considered taking a year off if he had signed a long-term extension, which could've occurred this offseason if not for a season-ending knee injury in the middle of last season.

Instead, Skura is seven months from being an unrestricted free agent and his biggest payday, which is a moment he has been building toward though a grueling offseason of rehab and years of grinding it out on the field. After going undrafted in 2016, he went from spending his entire rookie season on the practice squad to developing into one of the top centers in the league last season.

"He was going to play regardless," Emma said. "It’s no secret -- he’s in a contract year. That and how hard he’s worked this offseason to come back from injury, it’s just, yeah, you’re playing. We’re not going to sit here and stare at each other any longer."

When there was no official reporting date set, Skura was going to remain in Charlotte and his wife was going to be induced at the end of July. But the NFL and the players' union struck a deal on July 24, meaning Skura had four days to get to the Ravens.

Emma switched to her doctor in Baltimore and delayed her induction four days. With the help of Emma's sister, they loaded up three cars and made only one stop in traveling through three states.

"Definitely not recommended," Matt Skura said. "Emma is a road warrior."

He described the risk of playing during the pandemic as "pretty minimal" after seeing the lengths the Ravens have gone to ensure the safety of everyone in the organization. There are hand-sanitizing stations everywhere. Players get tested every day for the coronavirus and get their temperature checked twice before stepping inside the facility.

Social distancing is enforced, too. Every other locker was removed and plexiglass partitions have been installed between them. In the cafeteria, only one person is allowed to sit at each table. The meeting room for the entire offense is now being used by the offensive linemen. Masks are worn everywhere, including the hot and cold tubs.

When Skura gets home, he grabs the 16-ounce sanitizer in his car. He scrubs his elbows, forearms and hands before going inside and holding his infant son.

The Skura family takes the virus seriously. Matt comes from a family of medical professionals (his father is an orthopedic surgeon and his brother is in residency for orthopedic surgery). It also got their attention when a friend's relative died from COVID-19.

"Matt and I have just said we don’t want to play roulette with it," Emma said. "We don’t want to test it. I think it’s just trusting and hoping for the better judgment of others."

If Skura hadn't overcome enough obstacles, he still has to get on the field. Skura started camp on the physically unable to perform list, which was a precautionary move. He already has passed the team's traditionally tough conditioning test, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh referred to Skura's recovery as "remarkable."

The Ravens want to see how Skura is moving before putting him on the field. He tore the ACL, PCL and MCL in his left knee last November when all of defensive end Michael Brockers' 305 pounds rolled into the side of Skura's leg.

It's expected that Skura will get activated sometime in camp.

"This is a really slow ramp-up period anyway, this year, so we have time to do it, and we’re going to bring him along," Harbaugh said. "But he’s still right on schedule."

Harbaugh said he believes Skura had established himself as one of the better centers in the NFL last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman commended Skura for getting bigger and stronger last season and raved about how Skura's understanding of the game helped keep the league's highest-scoring offense on the same page.

When he suits up again, Skura will compete against Patrick Mekari and Bradley Bozeman as he looks to start his third straight season at center. If he can reach that same level as last year, Skura will think about the unexpected family road trip that got him back to that point.

"It’s like the story of 2020," Skura said. "Its unpredictability and the crazy situations. If you can think of them, they’re going to happen."