- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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We are getting many free-agency questions, even though we don't know when it will begin. Teams are not talking about players during the lockout for fear of legal ramifications. But I will try to provide answers as best as I can.
Sheldon from Erie, Pa., writes: What do think the chances are of Pittsburgh going after Antonio Cromartie if they are unable to sign Ike Taylor? Can you please explain to me why people want to keep William Gay?
James Walker: Cromartie is not a good fit for the Steelers, Sheldon. The Steelers are trying to avoid character questions after recent transgressions with Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger. On the field, Cromartie is not a good tackler, and the Steelers need that at corner because defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau calls so many blitzes. Also, I don't think your William Gay statement is accurate. My sense is Steeler Nation would not be upset if the team goes in another direction. But I don't live in Pittsburgh, so maybe there's a buzz I'm not aware of.
Jason from Tucson, Ariz., wants to know if the Steelers could make a push for fullback Lawrence Vickers in free agency.
Walker: The Steelers rarely use a fullback, Jason. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is really big into three-receiver and dual-tight end sets. Backup tight end David Johnson also has done a decent job in the fullback role when needed. If we're looking within the division, I actually think Vickers would be a much better fit for the Baltimore Ravens, who want to fix their running game and could be in the market for a fullback if pending free agent Le'Ron McClain doesn't return. Vickers knows the division well and his physical style fits right in with the Ravens.
Clifton from Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: James, I was wondering if you could give a scenario where the Steelers sign Nnamdi Asomugha, no matter how far-fetched?
Walker: This is getting ridiculous. Steeler Nation should police itself and give up on the idea of Asomugha coming to Pittsburgh. Who was the last big-name free agent the Steelers signed of Asomugha's caliber? It's not happening. But I will provide some brief entertainment, Clifton, and provide one far-fetched scenario. If Asomugha publicly states, "I don't care about making $15 million per year anymore. I just want to win a Super Bowl, and I only want to do it in Pittsburgh. I will play for the Steelers for $1 million next season." Only then will the Steelers have a chance. Otherwise, let it go, Steeler Nation.
DanielWolfNFL via Twitter wants to know what my thoughts are on the Cleveland Browns possibly pursuing free-agent safety Donte Whitner.
Walker: There are some pros and cons, Daniel. The pros are that Whitner is one of the top free agents available and the Browns have a need at safety. He's also a local product from Cleveland, and I think if the money is right, the Browns have a good shot. But the cons are that Whitner's style is similar to T.J. Ward's as in-the-box safeties, and that could present problems in coverage. Both players are young and potentially could be "coached up" to get better in coverage. But on paper that looks to be an issue. Still, Whitner is an upgrade over what the Browns have.
JeremyJameyson via Twitter wants to know if the Browns should go after receiver Chad Ochocinco if he is let go?
Walker: The Browns may look to add another veteran receiver, JJ. But Ochocinco would be an odd fit. He's 33 and the Browns are another rebuilding team that is still -- here's that infamous phrase again -- at least two years away. Ochocinco would be better playing for a contender next season.
Sue from Baltimore writes: Any bites on Willis McGahee? What do you think he is worth as a player?
Walker: There can't be any bites while he's still under contract, Sue. But there should be some teams interested once McGahee is released. Unfortunately, teams aren't talking right now, so I don't have a good enough feel for who the teams are or what his value would be. I still think there's a chance McGahee returns to Baltimore. The Ravens want him back, just not at the $6 million salary he's scheduled to make next season.
Clayton from Maryland writes: If Jimmy Smith stays out of trouble what corner would you compare him to in the future?
Walker: Clayton, the comparison I hear most is to Asomugha, and I think it makes sense. Smith is tall, lanky and fluid in his movements. These are all great traits to have for a corner. Both were late first-round picks coming out of college, as well. There have also been comparisons to former Ravens Pro Bowl corner Chris McAlister. But I think McAlister was more physical than Smith at this juncture. McAlister would beat you up at the line of scrimmage for four quarters and not relent. Smith has to prove he has that kind of mean streak in the NFL.
Matt from Syracuse wants to know if the Bengals trade Carson Palmer and cut Ochocinco, could they apply that money to re-sign free agents Johnathan Joseph and Cedric Benson.
Walker: Technically, yes, Matt. Palmer is due to make $11.5 million next season and Ochocinco is on for $6 million. That's more than $17 million off their books if the Bengals do the smart thing by moving on without Ochocinco and Palmer. Barring a bidding war with teams, I don't think Benson will cost too much. Running backs his age (28) don't get a ton of money in free agency, so I think there's a strong chance Benson returns. But I still have reservations about Joseph. The going rate for corners of his caliber starts at $10 million per season, and I don't see the Bengals shelling out that kind of money to keep Joseph, whether they opt to trade Palmer or not.
Comment and complaint department
Here are comments and complaints this week from our AFC North community:
Tommy Michael from Orlando writes: James, the fact that Troy Polamalu got his degree finally ends the debate who the better safety is. Troy, with that history degree, will be dropping knowledge on opposing offenses while he's dropping quarterbacks for sacks!
Walker: That's pretty funny, Michael. We already settled the infamous "Troy Reed" debate a few weeks ago with our safety Power Rankings. But we may have more material on this next week when we rank the NFL's top overall defensive players.
Jim from Cleveland writes: Why is everyone getting so riled up about Scouts Inc.'s prediction that the Browns will finish with the worst record in the NFL? All of the "experts" also predicted the Indians to finish at the bottom of the AL Central and last time I checked I didn't see them down there. That's why they play the games.
Cameron Christie from Allen, Texas, writes: I find Browns fans that think that the Browns are playoff bound this season humorous. More realistically, can you see them going 7-9, possibly 8-8? They do play the NFC West, along with several weaker AFC teams. Also, the Browns are a team on the rise, and I don't see them regressing. What's your prediction for their record in 2011?
Walker: I agree. It's too early for firm predictions before free agency, when the Browns still have a chance to improve their roster. But even as it currently stands, I don't believe they are the worst team in the NFL. Cameron, I don't see the Browns making the playoffs, either. But this time of year fans of every team should be optimistic. That's one of the great things about the NFL.
Fog from Chicago writes: I agree that it looks like the Bengals had a good draft but I don't see how it's going to help them, in the short term, on the field. They're replacing two of their most productive, if declining, veterans (Palmer, Ochocinco) with rookies (Andy Dalton, A.J. Green). How is that going to lead to a more competitive season? In the long run, sure, I think they'll be better off. But this coming year? Maybe some other young guys will develop but even if both Dalton and Green are fantastic they'll still only roughly equal what the guys they're replacing did. That's treading water, not getting better, and treading water makes eight wins very unlikely.
Walker: The Bengals are certainly in rebuilding mode again, Fog. But it was something that had to be done. I wrote last November that Cincinnati needed to blow up the team. I got killed for it at the time. But as the season progressed, people finally saw what I was talking about. The Palmer-Ochocinco-Lewis era had simply run its course and was not going to win a Super Bowl. Lewis returned, but the draft shows the team is finally prepared to move on without Palmer and Ochocinco, who are both over 30 and past their primes.
Patrick from Memphis, Tenn., writes: James, do me a favor and email Roger Goodell and Demarcus Smith and tell them the real "fans" of the NFL want a voice in this whole negotiation process. Both sides are making comments that are they claim are in the best interest of the fans. Why not get the "fans" involved and let us decide!
Walker: Let's be honest, Patrick. The lockout has nothing to do with the fans. Don't believe that from either side, because that doesn't make any sense. Most of this lockout is about money and how billions in revenue will be distributed. And fans won't have any say in how millionaires and billionaires share their money. That's just the reality.
Tim B. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Looking at the Bengals' schedule, I really feel Cincy has a good chance to start 5-0 before probably losing to Indy and a bye week. I know I risk sounding like a homer but I just wanted to know what your prediction is for the start of the season. Thanks, JW.
Walker: Tim, you were almost our biggest homer this week. But we have two better.
Co-AFC North Homers of the Week
Finally, we have AFC North homers not from the state of Ohio. Enjoy.
J. Singh from NJ writes: The Steelers have a easy schedule and will go undefeated. We will be 19-0 and destroy all the teams on our schedule. We will beat the Ravens for the third time in the playoffs. Then we face the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and finally beat them, then the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
Alex from Ellicott City, Md., writes: I don't see how the Ravens won't go 15-1. I see them losing at San Diego but that’s about it. We will sweep the Steelers and Joe Flacco will have a huge, coming out year. Jimmy Smith will immediately shut down the receivers we will play this year like A.J. Green, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Santonio Holmes. He will be the defensive Rookie of the Year and make the Pro Bowl. We will also have the most Pro Bowlers in the league with 11.
Walker: See? Steelers and Ravens fans can be homers, too. They just have to raise the bar because their teams are deep and talented. With that said, lay off the "Madden" video games, J.Singh and Alex. Pittsburgh and Baltimore will not go a combined 31-1 in the regular season. Alex, I don't see how the Ravens could have an astounding 11 Pro Bowlers, which would be half of the team's starters. The prediction of sweeping the Steelers is bold as well. I guess Pittsburgh can't go 19-0 and get swept by the Ravens at the same time. But none of these predictions are happening anyway. That's why you're our Co-Homers of the Week.
If you have any additional questions, complaints or homer-iffic comments, send them to our AFC North inbox.