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Rooney happy with new market, excited about additions

ORLANDO, Fla. - It's been a busy few days here in Orlando at the annual NFL meetings for team owners.

But for Steelers' president Art Rooney II, the league's announcement that the Steelers were awarded Germany as an international market in the Global Markets Program made it a worthwhile use of his time.

The NFL announced new markets for several teams this week, with the Steelers' rights being extended to Germany. They also have marketing rights in Mexico and Ireland, giving them access to build brand awareness and fandom beyond the U.S., through fan engagement, events and commercial opportunities.

"We were happy with the announcement that we were awarded Germany as our third global market opportunity so we can have more activities in Germany and look forward to continuing to build our fans," Rooney said Tuesday as the meetings concluded.

That announcement also opens the opportunity for the Steelers to perhaps host a game in Germany at some point in the future, along with potential games in Mexico and Ireland, as well.

"We'd love to play a game in all of those places, but I'm not sure how quickly that can happen," Rooney said. "So it will be a while before we get to all of them. But yeah, we'd love to play games in the markets where we have that opportunity."

That said, the Steelers and the rest of the league will have some new rules with which to deal in 2024 that might make things a little more interesting for fans and perhaps safer for players as NFL ownership approved new rules this week.

First, the league voted to ban the "hip-drop tackle," which is considered dangerous because of the injuries that occur when a defender drags an offensive player down from behind and allows his weight to fall on the back of the offensive player's legs.

"As you may recall, we lost Le'Veon Bell for a whole season because of a tackle like that a ways back," Rooney said referring to Bell being injured in a 2015 game. "We've heard concerns about it for a while now. I think the biggest question is, you know, our officials have a hard enough job, and it is a hard call, so it will be interesting to see how it gets called. But there's no question it can be a dangerous play."

The other major playing change that most fans will notice immediately is that to the rules involving kickoffs.

Owners voted 29-3 to make changes to how that play is set up, taking into account suggestions from special teams coaches across the league.

Per the new rules, kickoffs will remain at the 35-yard line. But the remaining 10 players from the kicking unit will line up at the opposing team's 40-yard line. The receiving team can line up with a maximum of two return men deep within 20-yard line – what is being called the "landing zone" – while at least seven players must line up in what's being called the "set-up zone," between their own 30 and 35.

After the ball is kicked, the kicker is not permitted to cross the 50-yard line, while the other 10 coverage players cannot move until the ball hits the ground, an opposing player in the landing zone or goes into the end zone.

The receiving team's players inside the set-up zone also cannot move until the ball is touched or goes into the end zone. Returners are free to move to the ball.

Kickoffs into the landing zone must be returned. Kickoffs that hit in the landing zone and go into the end zone must be returned or downed by the receiving team, at which point the ball would go to the 20-yard line. 

Kickoffs that go into the end zone in the air and stay inbounds that are downed will go to the 30-yard line, as will kickoffs that go out of the back of the end zone in the air or on bounces.

Finally, kickoffs that are short of the landing zone will be treated like a kickoff out of bounds and give the receiving team possession at its own 40-yard line.

It's a big change in how kickoffs are handled. The league will try it on a test basis in 2024 and revisit it in 2025.

"It's a dramatic change," Rooney admitted. "So there was no way around that, and we had some reservations because of that. So it's going to be interesting."

The Steelers' proposal to move the league's trade deadline back one week from Week 8 to Week 9 received approval as well. Other teams had presented proposals to move the deadline two weeks to Week 10.

"I think it's just an adjustment that now that we have a little longer season, just catching up with the fact that the season's a week longer now," Rooney said.

Rooney has overseen the team's very busy 2024 offseason and likes where the team is at as the Steelers center on the next phase of their roster building – next month's draft.

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

"I think every year we try and figure out how do we get better and how do we get better as quickly as possible," Rooney said. "That's really the bottom line, to try to get better as quickly as possible."

The Steelers have been active in that regard, acquiring quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, linebacker Patrick Queen, cornerback Donte Jackson and safety DeShon Elliott over the past couple of weeks as the new league year began.

There could be more acquisitions to come, but things now will begin to calm down and the team can focus more closely on the draft.

"The draft is the next priority and we've got to do a good job with the draft," Rooney said.

But he feels the Steelers have positioned themselves well to do that, particularly with their outside acquisitions and the addition of offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

Smith comes to the Steelers after three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, so the Steelers are quite familiar with what Smith brings to an offense – a physical running game and plenty of play-action passing.

"He brings a lot of experience," Rooney said. "We've been on the other side of the line of scrimmage from him for a while now. And we've always been  impressed with his approach to the game. And so we're excited about having Arthur, as well."

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