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Saturday, May 19, 2012
Weekend mailbag: Future for Steelers kicker

By Jamison Hensley

Time to open up some mail, which includes a couple of questions concerning the Pittsburgh kicker.

C from Ontario, Canada, writes: Shaun Suisham grew up close to me and I want him to do well. But I'm a Steeler fan first, so why is he on the team still? He bombed hard last year, his field-goal percentage was 31st in the league last season. Please tell me this young guy can beat Shaun out! Or at least the Steelers will do something.

Dennis from Clermont, Fla.: Jamison, when will the Steelers get serious about needing a kicker? With a team that has a defense that can always keep games close, an above average kicker is a necessity, but the team never invests in that position.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: There has to be some surprise that the Steelers didn't bring in serious competition to take on Suisham. Pittsburgh recently worked out Dave Rayner, another less-than-stellar veteran, but it didn't sign him. While no kicker for the Steelers will ever rank high in field-goal percentage, because half of his games are at challenging Heinz Field, Suisham struggled on the road as well. He made 9 of 13 kicks beyond 30 yards away from home (69 percent).

This lack of consistency in the kicking game can become a problem, especially if the Steelers can't improve on being the 18th-ranked red-zone offense. The only competition for Suisham is Danny Hrapmann, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi. He connected on 67.6 percent (23 of 34) of his field goals last season. In other words, he's not a real threat to Suisham. The Steelers should have looked at a veteran like Neil Rackers, who since signed with Washington. Pittsburgh should be more concerned about its kicker situation.


Joseph from Los Angeles writes: Everyone is saying that Billy Winn is going to fill in for Phil Taylor. Why would the team invest a third-round pick in John Hughes if he was not intended to be ahead of a sixth rounder on the depth chart? Is Hughes a run-stopper or situational player? Is Winn that much better?

Hensley responds: The Browns picked Hughes three rounds before Winn because they obviously had Hughes higher on their draft board. But you can't ask someone to play a position just because he's the higher draft pick. Hughes primarily played nose tackle at Cincinnati. Winn was a penetrating defensive tackle at Boise State. So, given what they bring to the field, Hughes is better suited to back up Ahtyba Rubin, and Winn looks more like Taylor's replacement.

This isn't to say Winn is definitely going to take over for Taylor. Hughes did play defensive tackle and defensive end in college. But, based on reports from Browns rookie minicamp, Winn was playing Taylor's defensive tackle spot, and Hughes was lining up at nose tackle. To be fair, Cleveland probably doesn't know who will start for Taylor. It's May, and the Browns have seen their rookies on the field for a few days. The Browns coaches are still learning about their new players and have time to decide who will be starting against the Eagles on Sept. 9.


Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: Ray Rice should get a bigger contract than Chris Johnson because, quite simply, he is a much better player than Johnson, and he is the Ravens' offense. CJ2K might have that one fluky 2,000-yard season, but even Adrian Peterson doesn't have one to his name and I doubt anyone would say CJ2K is better than AP. As far as I'm concerned -- and this is coming from a Steelers fan -- Ray Rice is the second-best running back in the league behind Adrian Peterson, and he should get paid like it.

Hensley responds: You sound more like Rice's agent than a Steelers fan. It's easy to take shots at Johnson after his disappointing season last year. To say his 2,000-yard was "fluky" ignores what he did in 2008 and 2010. When the Titans signed him to his big contract (six years with $30 million guaranteed), Johnson produced the most total yards in the NFL in his first three seasons (5,606) and scored 38 touchdowns. Did the Titans overpay him? Absolutely. Will the Ravens pay Rice like Johnson? Not likely.

I think everyone can agree that Rice doesn't deserve the money given to Peterson (seven years with $36 million guaranteed). Rice's numbers over the past three years are clearly better than Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy, and he should receive more than their recent deals (both of which included $20.7 million guaranteed). The question now becomes whether Rice should receive anything close to Johnson's deal. Over the past three seasons, Rice has more total yards, but Johnson has four more rushing touchdowns and 22 more runs longer than 20 yards. What also separates them is Johnson's 2,000-yard season. You can call it a fluke, but he is one of six running backs to accomplish this feat. That puts him in an elite category. And that's why I still feel that $25 million guaranteed is a fair deal for Rice.


Dennis from Sacramento, Calif., writes: How do you justify your "win win win for Cincinnati" on the Carson Palmer trade? When was the last time Cincinnati had any first-round and or second -round pick take them to the playoffs and win a game, let alone take them to the Super Bowl. To expect more than what Palmer was able to do last year after coming in off the couch would have been just plain stupid. Let's see what he does this year and then you can comment. This is why Palmer said "in the years to come" verses you only looking at it from last year's results.

Hensley responds: This is clearly a win for the Bengals at this point. They have their franchise quarterback, two early round draft picks, and even the Raiders coach who initiated the deal (Hue Jackson is now an assistant on Cincinnati's staff). The only way this can be a win for the Raiders long-term is if Palmer takes the Raiders to the Super Bowl or guides them to several playoff wins.

It doesn't matter what the Bengals do with the picks. The Bengals won just by getting those picks. This was a steal. The Bengals couldn't have asked for a better deal. The Raiders gave up picks in the first and second rounds for a 31-year-old quarterback. Palmer has to justify dealing those picks. He might only have one year to do so. The Raiders could go in a different direction at quarterback if Palmer doesn't establish himself in 2012.