Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Saturday, February 19, 2011
Walker's weekend mailbag

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Dan from Aruba writes: Do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers will go out and get a free agent cornerback to help bolster their secondary instead of risking an early draft pick?

James Walker: No, Dan, the Steelers are more likely to use an early draft pick. That is in line with their long history during the offseason. Every year we get e-mails from Steeler Nation asking will Pittsburgh go out and sign this Pro Bowler or that Pro Bowler in free agency and I just shake my head. Most Steelers fans know (or should know) that's not how they operate. Maybe one day the Steelers will surprise everyone, but until then I'm anticipating another quiet offseason until the NFL draft.


Mister K from Ankeny, Iowa, writes: Do you think there is any chance that the Steelers would try to sign Champ Bailey?

Walker: Mister K, Bailey is in negotiations with the Denver Broncos, who appear interested in keeping the veteran cornerback. So it's too early to speculate if Bailey will even hit the open market. But as I said before, the Steelers are not major players in free agency. I think retaining Ike Taylor and using a high draft pick on a corner are more likely.


Steve from Wash., D.C., writes: Any chance the Cincinnati Bengals give Dan LeFevour a shot at the starting QB position if we lose Carson Palmer after the draft?

Walker: I would really be surprised if the Bengals start the season with LeFevour at quarterback, Steve. But I have been surprised by Cincinnati's personnel decisions plenty of times before. For now, the team is counting on Palmer to have a change of heart. The more time that goes by, the more this becomes a dangerous assumption.


Will from Nashville, Tenn., writes: So what's the general opinion about offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to the Bengals?

Walker: It was a surprise Gruden got the job, Will, and even Gruden admits as much. Not a lot of people know about his style of offense, because he was only a position coach under his brother, Jon Gruden, in the NFL. Running the show in the UFL doesn't really translate accurately. But Cincinnati will have a West Coast-style offense, and Gruden says he wants to build a power running team next season. I think Palmer's future will heavily impact the offense's identity as well.


Brandon from Anna, Ohio, writes: Is free-agent safety Bob Sanders a possibility in Cleveland?

Walker: Not likely, Brandon. Sanders' style is very similar to T.J. Ward's, who is in many ways a younger version of Sanders. It wouldn't serve Cleveland's defense well to have two big hitters at safety, because the Browns would really struggle in pass coverage next season.


DP from Van Nuys, Calif., writes: Any word on whether or not the Browns will be switching back to a 4-3 as speculated?

Walker: The Browns are definitely going to a 4-3 defense. New Cleveland defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is a 4-3 coach. If the Browns wanted to stay in a 3-4, they would have kept Rob Ryan, who left for the Dallas Cowboys.


Henley from Richmond, Va., writes: What do you think the chances are that the Baltimore Ravens take Mike Pouncey with the 26th pick?

Walker: Veteran center Matt Birk says he's coming back for at least one more season. So Baltimore's biggest need on the offensive line is at tackle. Marshal Yanda can be a solid guard if he stays at one position. But switching him back and forth between guard and tackle hasn't worked out. I think if Mike Pouncey lands anywhere in the AFC North, it will be with his twin brother Maurkice in Pittsburgh.


Jason Cooper from Boise, Idaho, wants to know if Baltimore is in the market for free-agent receiver Santanio Holmes.

Walker: There are not a lot of former Steelers who play for the Ravens, and I don't see that happening in this case, Jason. It's no secret Holmes has given the Ravens headaches in the past, and sometimes that encourages teams to go after those players when they become free agents. But I see Holmes staying in New York as a member of the Jets. He was a good fit there last season, and I think they have the inside track.


Fatty from Bethesda, Ohio, writes: In your heart of hearts, do you think we will have a season next year?

Walker: Yes, Fatty, I believe there will be a 2011 season, and we won't miss any games. There have been a lot of talks over the past few days, which is progress. I'm not confident the NFL and NFLPA will reach an agreement by March 4, which is the day the old collective bargaining agreement expires. But there is too much on the line not to have a new CBA in place by late in the summer or early fall when the games begin.

Comment and complaint department

Dan from Minneapolis, Minn., writes: I keep hearing analysts say that Palmer does not want to be around the dysfunctional Bengals. I find it hypocritical. Memo to Carson: the Bengals have been dysfunctional since before you arrived. You signed a contract to play for this dysfunctional organization. So be a man and play.

Shari from Norfolk, Va., writes: I say let Carson go. It's all about what has he done lately and in his case what has he done ever! I've said for the last three years he's whiny, overrated and has never come back to full potential since he was injured. He wants to threaten/hold a team hostage -- whatever. Get a new quarterback and a new offensive line.

Walker: Dan, I've never been a fan of the "honor your contract" debate in the NFL, because teams never do the same. When teams cut an underachieving player because he makes too much money, fans say "Good riddance" and applaud the move. Without guaranteed contracts, why should players be held to a different standard? Shari, in my experience Palmer has never been known to be "whiny." If anything, Palmer was criticized for not voicing his complaints enough, which is why so many Bengals fans are surprised by his recent actions now that he wants out. I thought longtime Bengals fan and celebrity Nick Lachey summed it up very well this week.


Will B. from Tampa, Fla., writes: I'm not sure I understand all of the hand-wringing over what the Browns should do with their first-round pick. The team is converting to a 4-3 defense and just cut about half of their D-line: that's where the pick has to be focused. How many teams have been turned around by an early first-round WR in the last 10 years?

Walker: All valid points that I agree with, Will. Longtime readers of the AFC North blog know that I am strongly against taking receivers in the top 10, no matter how talented they are. Teams picking that high usually have a bevy of needs, and the receiver position is pretty low on the NFL's hierarchy. I've pointed out several examples like receivers Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, who are arguably top five at their position and all play for losing teams. But the Browns have a young quarterback in Colt McCoy and an offensive-minded head coach in Pat Shurmur. In a West Coast offense, Cleveland is going to pass the football a lot more, and going into next season with the same group of receivers is a disaster waiting to happen. McCoy's development and the progress of the West Coast offense are paramount for the Browns in 2011. If neither pan out over the next couple of years the Browns have no shot of catching the Steelers and Ravens. So this year might be the exception for my theory on drafting receivers in the top 10. I'm still torn on this.


Jason from Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Thanks for publishing that article about Dan Powell's experience at the Super Bowl. A buddy of mine had an almost identical experience, which leads me to believe that there's almost no way it's made up. He was so mad -- not just at what happened at the Super Bowl, but that the NFL was acting like they gave these fans the "red carpet" treatment. Thanks for allowing readers to see the other side of the story.

Walker: First, I'd like to thank Dan for sharing his experience, because it was important to shed light on the situation. I’m not anti-NFL by any means, because the league does a terrific job 95 percent of the time. But everyone screws up occasionally, and this was a huge mistake on the biggest stage. The NFL put its spin out there, but through modern technology it's easier than ever to get in touch with people and find the real story. Dan, as a Steelers fan, follows the AFC North blog on Twitter. So we got in contact with him and talked for more than half an hour to break down what happened. To verify, we also had Dan send us copies of his two Super Bowl ticket stubs and the NFL's letter to displaced fans before running the story.

If you have any additional questions, comments or complaints, please send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter page.