PHOENIX, Ariz. _ At the close of the NFL spring meeting, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn jetted back home Wednesday intent on keeping two things in Cincinnati for a very long time:
Franchise quarterback Joe Burrow and his home at Paycor Stadium.
"We've got Joe Burrow, and we've got the stadium lease," Blackburn said of the two biggest deals on the club's agenda. "They're both exciting opportunities. It's that time that we are beginning to think about it."
Blackburn confirmed there have been preliminary discussions with Burrow's agent for an extension but also said there has been a vow of silence between the two parties.
"I don't know the pace but we hope that there's something that can get done," Blackburn said. "We sort of said we won't talk about it much until there's something to talk about."
Blackburn wouldn't talk about specifics regarding the stadium lease between the club and Hamilton County but hinted there are improvements soon to be announced.
"We're actually going in and doing some improvements a little bit this year ourselves, and hopefully that sends a message that we're willing to invest," Blackburn said. "We hope we can take a look at the whole lease situation with the county and get something that would make the lease situation settled for a while and work well for the county and us.
"What we're trying to do is a good thing for the area and have this situation settled for a while. So we're going into it hoping we can do it in a way that keeps on a positive note."
Blackburn noted the new glittering edifices planned for Nashville and Buffalo, but she said the Bengals are seeking to keep Paycor competitive with the rest of the league.
"(We're) taking more of the Baltimore approach. I think we have a great stadium," Blackburn said. "Our stadium has been a great asset to the area and we think if we can keep it up to a certain level it can serve us well for a while longer. It's a big project. And more power to Tennessee and New York for going in that direction, but we feel our stadium has been a great asset and can be useful for a while. "
Other topics Blackburn discussed during a 35-minute interview with local media before she left the meetings:
_She says they want to extend the deals of not only Burrow but two of his 2020 draft classmates, wide receiver Tee Higgins and middle linebacker Logan Wilson. She says the size of Burrow's deal doesn't dictate the order in which they can be done.
"They're all great guys that we love having and want to have for a while, a long time on our team," Blackburn said. "So it's just a process that always plays out however it plays out. We'll be looking at all of the options and alternatives and thinking about what we might be able to get done."
As for being able to pay the Big Three of Burrow and Higgins this year and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase next year, she said, "We'll find out. There are so many things that come into play. So we'll just play it by ear as we go and do our best to see where we can get to."
_Blackburn indicated they'll continue not to lean heavily into the concept of guaranteed quarterback money and are looking at the big picture that relates to the salary cap and the building of the team.
"It's about how much money you pay the guys, we want to have the best team on the field every year, we're going to pay the money pursuant to the salary cap," Blackburn said. "And so it just seems like the better system for everyone is to make sure the right amount of money each year is going to the guys who are producing each year. So just from a long-term, big-picture perspective, that's sort of been our take on guaranteed contracts. Big picture, overall importance. It's something that's there and we always have to just work around."
_Blackburn, a member of the NFL competition committee, sat back down with the group after disagreeing with last season's decision in the wake of the canceled game against the Bills. Blackburn had objected to the NFL changing the rules and putting the Bengals in a coin-flip situation rather than adhering to guidelines already in place.
"It's just hard in those situations because there's always going to be an argument on one side or the other. So it seems to me that having an objective standard, actually, is a better way of resolving such a case like that, in that particular instance," Blackburn said. "It's something that people can talk about, and some people might feel you need to have more flexibility, but it is something that I think probably will get a little more discussion. Maybe as things go along … In the meantime, we're just going to worry about going out and getting ready for this year."
_Blackburn said running back Joe Mixon is the man for now on the roster, but also indicated that things can change when it comes to handling a potential re-negotiation along with possible additions in free agency and the draft.
"He's done a lot of great things for the team. I think he's still got a lot of great production in him," Blackburn said. "There is a whole myriad of things that can happen. And I don't want to imply that anything is going to happen or not going to happen because it all can depend on so many other things. It's a big jigsaw puzzle and you put one piece in and maybe that changes the way you see another piece. So we just have to wait and see how things play out a little bit."
_Although tackle Jonah Williams has reportedly requested a trade, Blackburn said he could be one of their five best linemen, but that's another situation that's also fluid. Williams, the starting left tackle since he was taken with the 11th pick in the 2019 draft, has been moved to a right tackle competition with the signing of Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
"I'm not sure he said he doesn't want to be with the team," Blackburn said. "These things happen. We're going to try and get our best team out there. We hear his concerns, but at the end of the day we'll just have to see where it all plays out and if he's here we're going to get our five best guys out there. We've obviously looked at our offensive line the last couple of years and really tried to strengthen it and I think we've done a great job with that. So we've got some good options."
_Blackburn said the Bengals have no plans to change the turf at Paycor.
"I feel like our surface has served us really well so far," she said. "Some of our biggest injuries were on grass fields at other spots. So it's always hard. There are so many stats. But there's a regular replacement (schedule) for the field at the stadium, and we're sticking with that regular replacement at the moment because our field has served us well."