Katie Blackburn discusses the NFL and the Bengals at the League meeting
Katie Blackburn discusses the NFL and the Bengals at the League meeting

ORLANDO, Fla. _ The Browns are supposed to be NFL traditionalists, and this week here at the NFL meetings, Katie Blackburn lived up to her family tradition of football innovation.

She helped guide the league through its biggest rule change in the three decades she served as Bengals executive vice president.

As a member of the NFL’s competition committee, she was part of the 8-0 vote over the weekend that recommended ownership rip up the existing kickoff rule and replace it with a strange-looking set of new alignments, zones and guidelines that basically eliminate touchbacks and almost guarantees more than 1,000 added kick returns.

The vote helped pave the way for Tuesday’s passage of the year-long process, which garnered all but three votes.

“It’s always difficult sometimes to be open to trying something that’s a little bit different, but sometimes that can lead to great things and hopefully that will be the case here,” Blackburn said Tuesday after the owners stepped down . “And I guess if it doesn’t work as expected, go back to the drawing board and see what else we can come up with.”

Blackburn and the Bengals owners have met several times with their special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, the NFL’s longest-serving kicking coach and assistant head coach to Zach Taylor. Simmons, part of the small task force of NFL special teams coaches who helped set up the initial version of the XFL, also considers himself a traditionalist.

But tradition means kickoff returns, and it was a game that was dying. It may have been resurrected in an unusual way, as coaches tried to delicately balance safety with return, but it lives on.

“I feel like our special teams coach thinks it’s going to be a positive for the game,” Blackburn said. “He feels he can operate in a way that is as close as possible to the kickoff of the past, but still has the opportunity for more returns.” It’s going to be different and yet, I think it’s still a kick-off.

“It’s going to be exciting and fun to watch.”

Simmons, ever the traditionalist, would like things to be as they are. But the play would not survive, and he found a sympathetic ear.

“She’s open to listening. I respect the fact that she would listen like that,” Simmons said. “Because she is in a certain position where she carries the weight of a lot. Being on the competition committee is probably the most prestigious committee in the NFL and for her to be a part of that and those decisions that she makes affect the future of the game.”

The Bengals were part of the unanimous vote on the other leading issue of the meetings, the hip-drop grip. But she hopes she can make it close.

“They wanted to eliminate things that clearly looked like they were hurting people. Hopefully they will use that when they implement the rule,” Blackburn said. “I’m not expanding on it, but in cases where it appears that someone is deliberately unloading on the back of a person’s legs. There’s a consensus that no one wanted to see guys get hurt like that. Hopefully this will eliminate those games. The players will adjust and hopefully it will be something that the players feel affects them in a real way.”

Blackburn also touched on a variety of topics on Tuesday:

_Paycor Stadium is undergoing a series of renovations, ranging from the locker room to the concourse expansion at Gate D. The faucets are humming as the Bengals hope to keep moving toward a stadium lease extension with Hamilton County.

“We wouldn’t be doing these things if we didn’t expect to hopefully do something in the future,” Blackburn said. “We’re doing what we think is going to give us the best opportunity and it’s going to be good for our fans and hopefully it’s going to give everyone a good result.”

“As the stadium is 25 years old and we want to keep it in the great condition it was in, we’ve focused on how we can continue to maintain it so we can hopefully last a bit longer in the future . “We’re very happy with our stadium, but things have to be done over time to maintain standards, so we’ve been working hard trying to make sure we do that instead of falling too far behind.”

Blackburn says the club is focused not only on the building but also on the agreement.

“Extending the lease is still something on our radar. It’s pretty important for us to figure it out at some point,” Blackburn said. “Obviously we have options for the next 10 years, so we have the flexibility to continue working if we need to, but it’s definitely something on our radar that we’ve focused on.

“It’s slow going, but we’re just going to keep working on it and I think the patience is worth it. There is no fixed timeline that anyone has played on this. We just keep working on it and hopefully make progress.”

_The Bengals may play an international game as early as this season when the team has a road game against Carolina, but they won’t know until the schedule comes out in mid-May. Blackburn said one of their home games in 2025 or 2027 is likely to be overseas as they continue to consider international rights deals.

“We haven’t applied to an international market yet, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t looked at things,” Blackburn said. I think we follow what others are doing and try to figure out what would be appropriate, if there is such a thing, and what would be a good approach when we decide to do it. We will see when that can happen, but to date we have not yet applied for a market. We’ll see where we go in the future.”

_The contracts of three-time Pro Bowler Ja’Mar Chase and franchise free agent Tee Higgins are still in focus. She indicated that they would like to provide both in the long term.

“We like these guys. We have to work within the salary cap,” Blackburn said. “So we have to figure out what that’s going to mean and how it can all stay together.” That’s exactly what we have to work on and see where it takes us.”

_Blackburn said the club is looking at the latest NFL Players Association survey, which surveys players’ opinions on a variety of topics.

“Everyone should always be open to feedback. Hopefully that will make things better in the future,” Blackburn said.

_Blackburn passed down the non-traditionalist traditionalist outlook to his daughters, Bengals staffers Elizabeth and Caroline Blackburn. The two are at the forefront of one of Paycor’s most popular innovations: the gaming experience and presentation.

“They’re not just people with ideas, but people who do it,” Katie Blackburn said. “They’ve taken some ideas and actually made them happen. So it’s absolutely fun to watch, but there are a lot of people who have worked on these things and they would be the first to say that there are a lot of people, I deserve credit for making these things happen. But it was really fun to watch.”

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *