AFC North mailbag

January, 14, 2012
1/14/12
8:00
AM ET
If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It's Saturday morning, so let's open up some mail ...

Jac, from Ohio, writes: Lately you have been saying that the Bengals need a No. 2 receiver, if and when Jerome Simpson leaves. I would think that Jordan Shipley would fill the No. 2 role in the slot behind A.J. Green. Or would Shipley be more of a No. 3 working the slot? And if Andrew Hawkins improves in the offseason, that would be a plus, right?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: Shipley and Hawkins are more on the level of being No. 3 receivers. That was the Bengals' biggest problem in the passing game. They had top targets in Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. But the rest (Simpson and Andre Caldwell) are No. 3 receivers on many teams. Both are very athletic but both struggle with route-running, which can be a big problem, especially for a developing young quarterback like Andy Dalton. Cincinnati needs to look in free agency for an upgrade.

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Chris, from Milford, Conn., writes: Just wondering what your thoughts are on the Steelers rebounding next season after that awful loss to Denver. Also, how can the Steelers be $20 million over the salary cap when they never sign any big free agents and don't have that many mega-deals with current players?

Hensley responds: The Steelers will always be competing for the division title if Ben Roethlisberger and his young receivers are healthy and the core of the NFL's top-ranked defense remains intact. And the reason why the Steelers are projected to be over the cap is because many veterans are entering the point of their contracts where the salaries escalate. Players with high salaries for 2012 are: outside linebacker James Harrison ($5.3 million), guard Chris Kemoeatu ($3.5 million), inside linebackers Larry Foote ($3 million) and James Farrior ($2.8 million), defensive end Brett Keisel ($2.8 million) and cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million). Those players represent $19.9 million. Some could be facing the decision of restructuring to stay with the team or getting released.

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Bryan, from Wickliffe Ohio, writes: I was just wondering what you think the Browns' chances are of drafting Robert Griffin III. To me it just seems like he is too much of a talent to pass up. No disrespect to Colt McCoy, but let's face it -- he's not going to win us any games based primarily on his skill level and I see RG3 as somone who can do that.

Hensley responds: It's really to early for teams to lock into one player. There are still all-star games, combine workouts and interviews as well as private workouts. Players will rise and fall up and down teams' draft board from now until April. There's no doubt that the Browns need a playmaker. But don't forget that the Bengals drafted wide receiver A.J. Green in the No. 4 spot last year — so you can see the level of impact player that Cleveland can get if it hits on the right prospect. At this point, Griffin has to be on the Browns' radar. But it's too early to say that he's their man with the fourth overall pick.

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Dave, from Burke, Va., writes: With the Bucs and Dolphins in the mix for Mike Zimmer's services, what are the chances that he returns as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator?

Hensley responds: It's a very real possibility that Zimmer could be hired elsewhere, particularly since Jeff Fisher spurned Miami and went to St. Louis. Both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins needed big-name splashes to generate some interest with apathetic fan bases. But there are really no buzz-worthy candidates left. That's why Zimmer has a legitimate shot at both places. If Zimmer goes, the Bengals can promote defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who has been on the staff since 2001. There's also been some talk that former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio could take over as defensive coordinator. But Del Rio is still owed $5 million next season, so he doesn't need to find a job.

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Lucas from Severn, Md., writes: I've been watching the Ravens closely all season and there have been some real flashes of greatness by Joe Flacco. There have also been some of his worst passing games as a quarterback (the Jets and Jags games specifically). Other than the playoff game against Kansas City last year, he hasn't proven to be solid in the playoffs. What are the chances that he will have a breakout game against Houston if the Texans choose to focus on stopping the run?

Hensley responds: Flacco has been extremely ragged when it comes to the playoffs. He's averaged 150 yards passing in seven games, throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But remember that all of those games were on the road and three of them came when he was a rookie. This is the time for Flacco to shine. He's at home where he has thrown 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his past 19 games (97.6 rating). And he threw for 305 yards against the Texans three months ago in Baltimore. So to answer the question, all indications point to a strong effort by Flacco on Sunday.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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