Katie Blackburn, the Bengals executive vice president who was on the way to the elevator, cancelled her golf match. Troy Blackburn, Katie's husband and fellow VP who usually tries to get a run in during the late afternoon, was still business casual. Geno Atkins' wife, who is a nurse, moved back her shift.
But the Bengals were right on time with their almost annual late summer blockbuster of a contract extension that retains one of their own. You can count on a couple of things around Labor Day at Paul Brown Stadium. Fireworks on the river and in the Bengals' salary cap. This time it was a pre-holiday waterfall with two franchise standbys re-upping to stay on the defensive line together for the next four seasons in first-ballot Hall-of-Fame tackle Geno Atkins and single-season sack leader Carlos Dunlap with deals rocketing the Bengals to No. 7 in cap spending for this season at about $186 million, according to various web sites
For Atkins and Dunlap, this is the rhythm of the season in Bengaldom as long as they've been here since the draft of 2010.
"(The Bengals) take care of their own," Atkins said Wednesday at their version of a double down news conference, a day before the pre-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium. "You do it the right way. Show up, go to OTAs and training camp and don't make it a big deal of it and talk to the media. Honestly, they take care of their own."
That's all they know. On the day Dunlap and Atkins played the 2011 pre-season finale at The Paul, back when they were young enough to play in the finale, they saw the offensive leader (left tackle Andrew Whitworth), the defense's best player (cornerback Leon Hall), as well as center Kyle Cook, reach extensions. Two years later, Dunlap beat Atkins by more than a month, but when Atkins signed on Labor Day of 2013 the Bengals had poured more than $30 million into that defensive assembly line for that season.
Then the next August the tag-team Blackburn negotiating team reeled in the quarterbacks on both sides of the ball that was nearly a double announcement. Andy Dalton was early, Aug. 4, but WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict took three more weeks to dot an "I" on Aug. 27, 2014, the day before the finale against the Colts. Then the next year it was perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, inking on Sept. 11, 2015, the day before the Bengals got on the plane for the opener in Oakland. Then last year Burfict re-upped again on Sept. 7 as the Bengals prepped for the opener in three days against the Ravens.
There are a lot of reasons, but mainly it's because the Bengals don't want to negotiate during the regular season for fear of distracting players and they are committed to the idea of paying their own. There are nuts-and-bolts reasons, too. Roster bonuses and signing bonuses are counted differently after the pre-season finale and that probably was one of the myriad of reasons these two got done now. A tweak with Dunlap to three years instead of four on the extension seemed to put it over the top with the lure of another deal beckoning at age 32. It was never a question with the 30-year-old Atkins. He wanted five-year security through 2022.
So Dunlap and Atkins were probably the least surprised guys in the house. In fact, one reporter kept telling Dunlap his deal would get done by Labor Day in honor of Atkins' 2013 pact.
"I think with this news coming out, and them securing guys long-term who they drafted and were up for their second deals, is a true testament to the family organization and the type of locker room we have here," Dunlap said. "For both of us to stay here despite the past two seasons, shows we feel encouraged about getting back to the top-notch we had (from 2011-2015) and improving on that. Getting to the Super Bowl is our goal. We have the business side done. Now we just focus on football and play the game we love, the game we've played since we were kids."
It was also big, solar-eclipse-man-landing-on-the-moon news that Atkins talked because he basically hasn't said anything to the local media since the end of the 2014 season, about the time former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther referred to him, "As just a guy out there." But that year was the first after Atkins tore his ACL and after he got two years under his belt he's been untouchable ever since.
On Wednesday the Iron Curtain fell and he was terrific. Not JFK and Reagan at the wall, but thoughtful and concise:
On how long he'll play: "I don't really consider age honestly. With today's sports science, advancements of how to take care of your body, and all of the knowledge that goes into what we do now with modalities. The training staff helps to try to keep us fresh for game day with their cold tubs, hot tubs, NormaTec and stem. I think age isn't even a factor any more. Guys can now continue their career, barring any injuries, until their mid-thirties."
On his signature move: "It can be game-planned things, where I watch film and say, 'OK, he doesn't have a strong anchor, so I'm going to start with the bull rush'. He might stop my first move, so I come back with the bull. It all depends … The bull rush is really my will against your will … I do other stuff. But the bull helps solidify and get them (the opponent) thinking a little bit. 'Am I going to hit them with another power or speed?' It gets them guessing a little bit."
On becoming a father in February: "It's a blessing to secure this contract. It's icing on the cake. The blessing was my wife being pregnant. Now, signing the contact, that's icing on the cake, and being blessed to have a boy or a girl. It's amazing."
But don't look for any more 60 Minutes jobs. As Dunlap said, "I think getting him up here was a big step for himself. What he did today and said today will give you enough for the season. He did an amazing job."
Atkins said as much.
"Today is a good day. One and done," he predicted. "We have 66 other guys that have interesting stories that you don't even talk to, so explore that. Plus, I'm not that interesting to talk to."
Of course, he's quite interesting. Any guy who is on pace to have 99 sacks through the end of the deal in 2022, making him the second most prolific tackle of all-time, is riveting even if he sits on the knee of a ventriloquist.
But Atkins is no dummy. He revealed, yes, he likes it here and why.
"They are the team that drafted me. I love this city and the organization," Atkins said. "It's something to submit my legacy here. I think it's important to finish where I started. We have unfinished business here. Carlos and I want to bring a Super Bowl to Cincinnati."
The man down at the end of the hall feeds the sense of family. The place is named for his father and his daughter and son-in-law are the ones crafting the deals now. He watched them go about $10 million over the $177 million salary cap, according to some of the sites, in a bid to get back to the big game on the 30th anniversary of their last Super Bowl trip, eating into the carryover built up from previous seasons.
Mike Brown is 83 now, but he does what he always does. He walks down the hall to the conference room where the signings take place and shakes hands and offers thanks. He told Atkins and Dunlap basically the same thing during their separate sittings, "We're glad you're here. I'm glad you're here. You're one of us."
On Wednesday, Brown got to feed a shark. Drew Rosenhaus, Dunlap's rep and one of the NFL's most influential agents who wrote the autobiographical "A Shark Never Sleeps," came to town to finish the deal off with Troy Blackburn.
As Brown stopped by the Dunlap signing, Rosenhaus was remembering his first Bengals contract, 1990 third-rounder Bernard Clark, a deal that Brown pushed through since he did them all back then. Rosenhaus mentioned he didn't realize Brown had gone to Harvard Law School and so Brown walked him through the story how his father, then coaching Cleveland, didn't want Mike playing in the NFL. Paul preferred he become a lawyer.
"But we all think we can play," Brown said of that 1957 draft. Brown, the master of self-deprecation, never misses with the punch line, "The Chicago Cardinals called my father in the last round, which should tell you something. When they asked his permission to draft me he told them, "If you don't draft him, I won't either."
On Wednesday, Brown signed up two of his guys they drafted. Again.
"I don't think there was any doubt. Both sides wanted to get the deal done," Atkins said. "It was more of being patient. I didn't have any doubt and thought we would get a deal done."