The Baltimore Ravens have signed safety Will Hill to a new two-year contract. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome approached safety Will Hill as he walked off the practice field Thursday afternoon to confirm the news and offer his congratulations.
"He said, 'I think highly of you,' and I told him I thought highly of him and this organization, too,'" Hill said. 'Now, it's time to take it to the next level and try to win a championship."
The Ravens signed Hill last July after he was released by the New York Giants and facing the third NFL suspension of his young career. They've spent considerable time since providing support for the oft-troubled safety and they've praised the strides Hill has made on and off the field.
On Thursday, they made their greatest show of faith yet when they signed Hill to a two-year contract. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Hill said his new contract covers the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He had been set to play in 2015 on the $1.542 million restricted free agent tender the Ravens offered this offseason. He would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season.
"It means a lot to me, just for this organization to even consider [having] me for more years than what they planned to in the beginning of the offseason," Hill said. "When I first signed and I sat down with Ozzie, I knew from that point that I didn't want to go anywhere. I wanted to be a Raven, and this extension, it just helped out and it gives me a lot of confidence on the playing field and it helps me see what the organization thinks of me."
For the Ravens, the signing continues Newsome's effort to solidify the secondary. Over the past five months, the Ravens have signed Hill and top cornerback Jimmy Smith to contract extensions, agreed to three-year deals with unrestricted free agent cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis and restructured cornerback Lardarius Webb's contract to keep him in the organization.
The move, which follows the extensions for Smith and punter Sam Koch, also eliminates one more free agent decision that the Ravens would have to make following the season, when starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw and kicker Justin Tucker could hit the open market.
Hill, 25, does come with significant risk. After not getting drafted out of the University of Florida, largely because of character concerns, he was suspended in each of his first three seasons. In 2012, he was banned for four games for using Adderall. He was sidelined for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's policy on substances of abuse. His third suspension – this one for the first six games during the 2014 season – was again for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Hill also was arrested in 2013 for allegedly failing to pay child support and had a warrant issued for his arrest in New Jersey this year for outstanding child support payments.
"My father had been up here for the past week, and he was like, 'Look, this is a great fit for you. If you ever come across getting a deal, you know all that off-the-field stuff has got to go. I know you've been doing a great job with it, and just keep it up,'" Hill said. "That's been playing through my head every day. Does everybody want a contract extension? Of course. I really couldn't focus on that. It's just been mainly mainstream football getting ready for the season."
The Ravens have praised Hill for taking steps to distance himself from his troubled past. He moved out of the West Orange area in New Jersey and spent the offseason living in Owings Mills and training at the team facility. Hill's brother and young daughter attended nearly every one of the team's training camp practices.
"He has been working very hard, doing a lot of positive things," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees told The Baltimore Sun this month. "I'm very optimistic."
Newsome has taken a particular interest in Hill's progress on and off the field.
"You go to most places and it's just a business," Hill said. "It's more family oriented around here. I know I have a good rapport with all my coaches, the offensive coaches too, and I talk to Ozzie every day. When [owner Steve Bisciotti] is out, we have good conversations. They mingle with my family. Everyone's really family oriented around here."
The Ravens, of course, will need Hill to be productive on the field. In 10 games last year, including eight as a starter, Hill had 39 tackles, four pass breakups and returned his only interception for a 44-yard touchdown in the Ravens' victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Pro Football Focus graded Hill as the league's 14th best safety last season a year after he ranked third. Hill acknowledged that it took him a while to knock off the rust and learn the Ravens' defense.
In training camp, he has been one of the Ravens' most active players, which the team hopes is a precursor for things to come. Matt Elam's likely season-ending biceps injury has left the team thin at safety behind Hill and Lewis.
"I see a lot of greatness out there on the field," Hill said. "We've just got to put it together, and just on a personal aspect, you dream about making money. It's a weight off my shoulders just to think about making money. Now it's just full-fledged championship. It's time to take it to the next level. That's the ultimate goal."