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NFL Takes Note Of Bengals' Emergence

Popular Joe Mixon has the NFL pointing at the Bengals.
Popular Joe Mixon has the NFL pointing at the Bengals.

PALM BEACH, Fla. _ The Bengals have been hot and they're still hot as the NFL wrapped up its annual spring meeting Tuesday at The Breakers.

The AFC champions came into this rambling Gatsby-era resort off a killer week in free agency that validated their lightning emergence into the elite. At the NFC coaches media availability Tuesday, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, whose sudden rebuilding team plays the Bengals this season, was asked if their last-to-first exploits is a model.

"Certainly," Smith said. "If you have their weapons. If you give us (Ja'Marr) Chase and (Joe) Burrow."

Not only on the field. Marc Ganis, the sports business consultant known as the NFL's 33rd owner, has become amazed at the reach of Who Dey Nation.

"As the season went on, you saw it nationally," Ganis said. "Their fans base just exploded. There were people all over the country rooting for the Bengals. They were fun to watch. They were a together group."

Ganis, who guides sports franchises through games of Monopoly with live ammunition, saw it for himself last month at Super Bowl LVI. A group of his guests were sitting in the SoFi Stadium fourth row near the Bengals tunnel when running back Joe Mixon played catch with one of them coming off the field during pregame.

"That was really special to see something like that. That's a moment that always stays with people," Ganis said. "That says something about ownership. To see something like that, I think it shows there is some kind of family atmosphere that is being fostered there."

When it comes to how the family manages their salary cap, Ganis calls it "old school," and says that's OK because it's working.

"Look at the team they've put together. You can't argue with that," Ganis said. "They always been to the cap, so they're spending the money. I think it just proves there's a lot of different ways you can do it."

Mirroring the Bengals climb to the top, the meetings also marked Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn's debut on what amounts to the league's steering committee.

On Sunday the competition committee recommended that the owners change the overtime rules for the playoffs and while the Bengals reportedly were one of three teams that voted against it, committee chairman Rich McKay welcomed Blackburn to a table where he's been working for 29 years.

"She doesn't come at it from what benefits the Bengals, but what benefits the league," McKay said Tuesday after his press conference. "I think when you have people who have been in the league as long as she has, that's a really good thing. We need those types of people. That's how things get done as opposed worrying about how it may impact my team."

McKay didn't get a chance to work with Paul Brown, a founding member of the competition committee. But he did work with Bengals president Mike Brown during his eight-year tenure.

"Katie's like her father. Very smart, willing to listen and not afraid to give her input. That's a good committee member," McKay said. "What I like about Katie is she's articulate and not argumentative."

You could argue that the Bengals were a big reason for the success of the NFL's first extended playoff format. During his own Tuesday news conference, beleaguered commissioner Roger Goodell, his league saddled with several volatile investigations, pointed to January and February as an example of the game's staying power despite the daunting issues facing the league.

"I would say this is one of the greatest postseasons in the history of the NFL," said Goodell of a run that included two Bengals wins at the gun.

They should get even more run now that the locker rooms are being re-opened to the media this spring for the first time since the pandemic hit two years ago. If there were ever any doubts about the media getting back in, NFL public relations chief Brian McCarthy quashed them Tuesday.

"The protocols are no longer in effect at the clubs. There is no more tier one and two," McCarthy said. "We recognize the importance of media having access to players and coaches and personnel and the locker room is often a very good place for that."

That figures to bring more national media into Paul Brown Stadium, like long-time NFL writer Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.

"If I'm in the locker room day-to-day, I'm accountable for the people that I'm covering," Breer said. "It's good for the reporter, obviously, because it helps him do his job. But it's also good for the player because it gives him an avenue to have his voice heard, to make sure what is getting out there is right. Ultimately to have a real voice in the public on what's going on with the team."

So there's going to be even more of the Joes, Ja'Marr, Tee, TB and Jessie Bates III. The open room may shoot the Bengals' social media numbers through the roof. They're already in the top five in engagement, numbers that startle Ganis.

"What a jump. What a change. That is stunningly impressive," Ganis said. "Of course, you've got a great team with Burrow and Chase and that helps. But you also have to produce the content and then you have to execute it. It also shows you that fan base."

The numbers should also spike with more prime time games for a team that appeared just once at night last season until that Sunday at SoFi. The schedule is released in May. McKay, whose business is parity, knows.

"I look forward to seeing them," McKay said, "because you've got that wide receiver. Woow."