Matt Birk's week of waiting has begun.
The six-time Pro Bowl center has been told by the Minnesota Vikings they want him back, and that desire is mutual. Whether the Vikings and Birk can agree on a contract to keep him with his hometown team, well, that's yet to be determined.
But with the beginning of free agency looming late Thursday, the situation has an optimistic tone to it.
"It's nice to be wanted," Birk said in a phone interview Monday. "We'll see what's out there. I'm just weighing all my options."
When an NFL team doesn't try to work out an extension for an important veteran player in the final year of his current deal, the lack of action is often a telling sign of a move toward cutting ties. Coach Brad Childress also wasn't happy that Birk chose to work out on his own last year and skip the optional spring practices known as organized team activities.
Childress and Birk talked last week, however, and the coach assured the player he's welcome back if the contract works out. Birk's agent, Joe Linta, also spoke with Vikings vice presidents Rob Brzezinski and Rick Spielman at the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis. Birk said the meeting was "encouraging," and Childress told reporters at the combine he'd love to have the 32-year-old snapping the ball again in 2009.
"Matt and I are never going to talk about dollars and cents," Childress said. "He's just going to get my take on it. I'm going to get his take on it, and then Rob and Rick and Joe Linta will talk about the rest of that stuff."
Linta said Monday that he hadn't received a formal offer, but that he expected one to come this week.
"We've got to get together and play the game of twister and see if we can get something done," Linta said, adding: "There are 12 or 13 teams that need a center, and they know that we know that."
The process doesn't necessarily have to be drawn out, either, so Birk could know what team he's playing for by the weekend. What he won't know is exactly how much longer he'll play.
"As long as I'm healthy and productive and it works for my family, I'll keep playing," said Birk, who grew up in St. Paul and was drafted by Minnesota out of Harvard in the sixth round in 1998. "If not, it's time to hang it up."
Childress also indicated interest in bringing back tight end Jim Kleinsasser, another free agent. Safety Darren Sharper appears less likely to return. The Vikings have needs at quarterback, offensive tackle and on special teams, too.
If Birk doesn't come back, the center position suddenly will become a question with John Sullivan -- a sixth-round draft pick last year -- the only other one currently on the roster.
Birk acknowledged he wasn't sure whether the Vikings would be interested at all.
"They don't owe me anything," he said. "It's been 11 awesome years up to this point. If they'd have said we're going in a different direction, I would've completely understood. I've been around this game long enough to know how it works."