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Katie Blackburn Weighs In On NFL And Bengals Topics At League Meeting


ORLANDO, Fla. _ The Brown family is supposed to be rock-ribbed NFL traditionalists and this week here at the NFL meetings Katie Blackburn was true to her family tradition of football innovation.

She helped the league through its most massive rule-book change in the three decades she's been the executive vice president of the Bengals.

As a member of the NFL competition committee, she was part of an 8-0 vote over the weekend that recommended ownership rip up the existing kickoff rule and replace it with an odd looking array of new alignments, zones, and guidelines that basically eliminates touchbacks and pretty much guarantees more than 1,000 added kick returns.

The vote helped pave the way for Tuesday's passage of the one-year trial that garnered all but three votes.

"It's always hard to sometimes be open to trying something that's a little different, but sometimes it can lead to great things and hopefully that'll be the case here," Blackburn said Tuesday after the owners adjourned. "And I guess if it doesn't work as expected, get back to the drawing board and see what else we can come up with."

Blackburn and Bengals ownership met several times with their special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, the NFL's longest-tenured kicking game coach and Zac Taylor's assistant head coach. Simmons, part of the small working group of NFL special teams coaches that helped tweak the XFL kickoff version, counts himself a traditionalist, too.

But tradition means a kickoff return and it was a play that was dying. It may have been revived in an unorthodox manner as the coaches tried to delicately balance safety with the return game, but it lives.

"I feel like our special teams coach feels that this will be a positive for the game," Blackburn said. "He feels that it can operate in a way that is as close as you can get to the kickoff of the past, but yet have the opportunity for more returns. It will be different and yet, I think it's still a kickoff.

"It'll be exciting and fun to watch."

Simmons, ever the traditionalist, would like to have things the way they were. But the play wouldn't have survived and he found a sympathetic ear.

"She's open-minded to listen. I respect the fact she would listen like that," Simmons said. "Because she's in a certain position where she bears 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 she helps make affect the future of the game."

The Bengals were a part of the unanimous vote on the other leading issue of the meetings, the hip-drop tackle. But she hopes it can be handled narrowly.

"They wanted to eliminate things that clearly looked like they were hurting people. Hopefully they'll use that as they implement the rule," Blackburn said. "Not broaden it, but in the instances where it looks like someone was intentionally unloading on the back of a guy's legs. There is consensus nobody wanted to see guys getting hurt like that. Hopefully this will eliminate those plays. Players will adjust and hopefully it will be something that players feel like it is impacting them in a real way."

Blackburn also touched on a variety of topics Tuesday:

_Paycor Stadium is going through a series of renovations, ranging from the locker room to the expansion of the plaza at Gate D. The cranes are whirring as the Bengals hope to keep progressing to the extension of a stadium lease with Hamilton County.

"We wouldn't do these things if we didn't anticipate hopefully getting something done in the future," Blackburn said. "We're doing what we think will give us the best opportunity and be good for our fans and hopefully give everyone a good result.

"Because the stadium is 25 years old and we want to keep it in the great condition that it has been in, we have been focused on how we keep maintaining it so we can hopefully make it last a little bit longer into the future. We're very happy with our stadium, but it does require things to be done over time to keep it up to standards, so we've been working hard trying to make sure we do that, rather than getting too far behind."

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

"A lease extension is still something on our radar. It's a pretty important thing to us to get figured out at some point," Blackburn said. "We obviously have options for the next 10 years, so we have flexibility to keep working if we need to, but it is definitely something on our radar that we're focused on.

"It's slow going, but we'll just keep working at it and I think patience is worth it here. There's not a fixed timeline that anyone has played out on this. We just keep working on it and hope to make progress."

_The Bengals may be playing an international game as soon 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 will likely be overseas as they continue to mull international rights agreements.

"We have not applied for an international market yet, but that doesn't mean we haven't been looking at things," Blackburn said. I think we've been tracking what others have been doing and trying to figure out what, if anything, would be a good fit and what would be a good approach when we do decide to do it. We'll see when that might be, but to date we have yet to apply for a market. We'll see where we end up in the future."

_The contracts of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and franchise free agent wide receiver Tee Higgins are still a focus. She indicated they'd like to secure both long-term.

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

_Blackburn said the club is looking at the most recent NFL Players Association survey that polls players' views on various topics.

"Everyone should always be open to feedback. Hopefully, it makes everything better in the future," Blackburn said.

_Blackburn is passing on the non-traditionalist traditionalist view to her daughters, Bengals officials Elizabeth and Caroline Blackburn. The pair have been at the forefront of one of the most popular Paycor innovations: The gameday experience and presentation.

"They are not just idea people, but get it done people," Katie Blackburn said. "They've taken some ideas and actually made them happen. So that is absolutely fun to watch, but there are a lot of people that have worked on these things and they would be the first ones to say there are a lot of people that deserve credit for making those things happen. But it's been really fun to watch."