PALM BEACH, Fla. _ The Bengals have owned the early Zooming '20s with three of their best free-agent classes, their two best drafts, screeching social media analytics, a Super Bowl appearance and a stirring Ring of Honor ceremony highlighting a glittering revamp of the Paul Brown Stadium experience.
But Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn held her cards close Wednesday when asked about plans for 2022 during an interview with members of the Bengals media that made the trip to the NFL owners annual meeting.
Speaking in a hallway of The Breakers Wednesday morning before heading back to Cincinnati, she allowed there'll be a second Ring of Honor induction this season and the first draft party at PBS since 2019.
"There's some other things we're looking at that I think will be interesting, but it's not quite timely to share yet," Blackburn said.
Usually Bengals president Mike Brown talks to the Cincy media at the end of the meetings, but he didn't make the trip and Blackburn came in out of the bullpen. Brown, 86, is fine, but this week is another example of his plan of stepping back but not down while his daughter has assumed more of the day-to-day operations. She's savoring what the Super Bowl run meant to her father.
"He worked so hard for so long trying to do things the right way. He's never thinking just Bengals, he's thinking for the overall NFL all the time," Blackburn said. "It was great to see us get a chance to enjoy the season and all the things you're trying to do all the time almost come to a complete fruition."
Blackburn has been overseeing the day-to-day business for pretty much the last decade and a half, but she consults daily with her father. She had to smile when asked about his statement of a few years back that he was going to step back because he still has the final say and sits in on all the football meetings.
"He's said that for 25 years," Blackburn said. "He is involved. He's down at the stadium every day. Every day. We keep him involved in everything, get his input on everything, but the rest of us are out there doing more and more reporting back to him rather than him doing it and reporting to us. But he has an active interest in everything that's happening, and he has great insight from all of his experience. And he still wants to be part of everything that's going on, which makes me happy."
Blackburn has been doing plenty of heavy lifting lately, as evidenced by the last two weeks. While preparing for her first spring meeting as a member of the league's competition committee, she steered the Bengals through another successful free agency period culminating in the negotiations for new right tackle La'el Collins.
She also talked about matters on the near horizon:
_When asked if an indoor facility is imminent, Blackburn said the club is "actively," pursuing options.
"We're looking actively at some things. It's something we realize would be good for us to have, so we're trying to find out ways," Blackburn said. "We are considering ways to make that happen."
Noting the Super Bowl was played on Feb. 13, Blackburn is apparently expecting more cold weather days for this team.
"Not from a recruiting standpoint. Just from a practicality standpoint of having an indoor place to practice," Blackburn said.
_Joe Burrow's two predecessors as the Bengals franchise quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton, got contract extensions as soon as possible. With Burrow eligible after this season, Blackburn is ready to go if Burrow is in the wake of the best season a Bengals quarterback ever had.
"We did get it done earlier with those guys, so we're certainly open to doing something. It's just a matter of if takes both parties to agree on what will work," Blackburn said.
"It's just a matter of when you talk to the agent, when it's that time. It's a feel for some of it is their message and what they want to do and it's a matter of how everything else is set up at the team. Obviously if things work well, we're open to both approaches and it's just a matter of working through it with the player and the agent."
_The Bengals have taken note of the Bills planning to build a new stadium after Monday's deal with New York State. They aren't looking for a new one and while the PBS lease is coming up for an extension, she loves the building and where it is.
"It's served us really well. We've maintained it. It has more years in it, for sure," Blackburn said. "But you do need to try to keep up. So it's something we're always looking at. It's a process that we're actively looking at ways to try to keep it competitive with other stadia and try to figure out the best way to do that."
When it comes to the here and now, Blackburn thoroughly enjoyed working on her first competition committee and was particularly impressed with the quartet of coaches made up of Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, Tennessee's Mike Vrabel, Washington's Ron Rivera and Indianapolis' Frank Reich..
But she's a traditionalist when it comes to overtime and voted against the committee's recommendation to revamp it in the postseason so each team is assured of one possession. She joked that maybe she stayed with the old rule because the Bengals lost the overtime toss and still won the AFC title game two months ago in Kansas City.
But Blackburn likes the suddenness of sudden death, as well as cutting down on players' snaps and keeping the same rules that are used in the regular season.
"I'm just a fan of the sudden death aspect of it. I think guys have been playing for a long time. You had four quarters to try and win the game. I like the rules being the same for the regular season and the postseason so everyone is playing the same game," Blackburn said.
"But it's a little bit different because you have to play to a win in the postseason and, at that point, I just think if you have to play an extra full quarter, to me, that's a little bit of a disadvantage for the team that wins and plays the next week. I thought the rule was very exciting as it was. There's always going to be a little bit of unfairness, in my mind. I'm fine with the rule passing."
Blackburn "loves," the recent free-agent signings that have brought them three Opening Day starting offensive linemen. But she says the recent success in free agency doesn't represent a philosophical shift. They'll always put the draft front and center when it comes to player acquisition.
But Blackburn did say they're better at free agency now because they spend more time on it. That stretches back to director of player personnel Duke Tobin's decision after the 2018 draft to make Mike Potts director of college scouting and Steven Radicevic director of pro scouting and the point man in free agency.
"We have spent more time studying free agents before free agency. We have invested more time in doing that and I think we are getting better results with some of the things we've been doing," Blackburn said. "It's like everything. We looked at it. We improved the way we were doing it. The scouts and the role they play and working with the coaches in terms of studying free agents … We've spent a little more time working to find the pieces and the players that will fit our team."
With the Bengals bringing home an A-plus class of free agents while defending the AFC championship, Blackburn is at the top of her game. Not only does she have her beloved father with her, but daughters Elizabeth and Caroline are working with the team.
Elizabeth Blackburn, the club's director of strategy and engagement, had a breakout season taking the Ring of Honor from dream to reality. She also oversaw a social media department that barged into the NFL's top five engagement.
"Everyone is proud of their kids, right? She just has an energy and an enthusiasm and a get-it-done attitude that has been great," Katie Blackburn said. "I can't say enough about how great the reaction is that she's gotten from everyone. She's a busy person, but she's enjoyed it. It's fun to have her here and get that extra boost of energy.
"Getting the Ring of Honor done was amazing. It was really a great event, a great thing for our alumni players, the fans and she came in and got it done. We have a great social media team and she'll say she doesn't deserve all that credit, but she gets a lot of it for that. But we have a great social media team. She's worked with them and it's impressive what has happened in that area."
Dad's office right here. The kids' offices right there. Life couldn't be better for her. Well, except for one thing.
"We wanted that one final step, so I guess we have something to keep shooting for in the near term," Blackburn said. "It was an amazing season. Coming out of COVID and coming off the Joe Burrow injury, it was just incredible to have the turnaround and go as far as we did. We had a great group of players. They were appealing to not just our fans, but a lot of fans. I think that made it fun."