Ravens report, Billick under new contract

WESTMINSTER -- The Baltimore Ravens' unpacked luggage upon arriving at training camp Thursday included the signature of coach Brian Billick on a new contract.

Four years after winning a Super Bowl championship, Billick was awarded a multi-year contract reportedly worth $4.5 million per season. This is a new contract, not an extension of his old deal that had two remaining years.

For Billick, 50, and the defending AFC North champions, the affirmation of his job security represents another signal of the continuity of a football team expected to contend for the playoffs again. Team officials declined to specify the exact length, or the financial terms of a deal Billick signed one day before players reported to Westminster.

"All the guys respect the way he coaches," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "He's a coach who plans for everything. I guarantee you with all the money on the table now that he's got every practice scripted all the way until the Super Bowl."

Under Billick, the Ravens have appeared in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. Entering his sixth season, he ranks eighth among active coaches with a 52-35 win-loss record, including the postseason, for a .598 winning percentage.

New majority owner Steve Bisciotti and team president Dick Cass surprised Billick with the offer to extend his stay in Baltimore.

"On the previous contract, which Steve was a part of, we had indicated that it was something that we would wait on until we got to the end of this year," Billick said. "For Steve to come forward, not only am I gratified by the contract itself, but just by the way we were able to do it."

Billick is tied for fourth in longevity among NFL head coaches with Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid, ranking behind Pittsburgh Steelers' Bill Cowher, Tennessee Titans' Jeff Fisher and Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan.

The contract also keeps together the management tandem of Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome. Newsome is under contract through 2006 and the team is expected to move to retain his services in the future.

"I've said from the beginning that I want Brian and Ozzie here for a long time," Bisciotti said in a statement.

During Billick's tenure, the Ravens have improved markedly from a combined record of 16-31-1 in three seasons under former coach Ted Mar-chibroda.

Since 1999, when Billick took over, the Ravens have weathered the strife of All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis' high-profile trial four years ago, Jamal Lewis' severe knee injury three years ago, the shredding of the roster two years ago due to an overloaded salary cap and an annual shuffle of quarterbacks until anointing Kyle Boller as a rookie starter last year.

"I love the fact that we have some continuity going," Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap said. "He's upfront with us, and he tells us everything that's going to happen. He always does what he says and everybody respects that about him."

The Ravens return 21 of 22 starters, including eight Pro Bowl selections and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Ray Lewis and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in Jamal Lewis.

Jamal Lewis' trial date on federal drug conspiracy has yet to be announced. Billick didn't strike an optimistic chord on whether the Pro Bowl runner could play in a game after attending court sessions during the week. "It's hard for me to imagine that a player given that circumstance and the amount of time and attention that would require could emotionally, mentally, even physically be ready to take on the rigors of an NFL game on Sunday," Billick said. "I won't totally discount that, but until that time frame is laid out I can't imagine a player being in a situation where he wouldn't be putting himself or his team at risk on a Sunday having to be preoccupied with the events of the week.

"Our faith in Jamal and his circumstances is unwavering."

Billick acknowledged the heightened expectations surrounding a team built around the third-ranked defense, a smash-mouth running game and a passing game it's attempting to upgrade.

Months ago, Ray Lewis said he expects to contend for a Super Bowl to be held in Jacksonville, Fla. "The next logical step is to have our sights set on the big prize," Billick said. "Given the talent that we have here and the cumulative experience, the structure, the energy, the change in ownership is now definite, the stability, to think of us in any other terms but as the Super Bowl being the ultimate goal and us being a Super Bowl capable team would be hiding from expectations."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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