AFC North: Vernon Gholston

AFC North mailbag: Ohio football

April, 15, 2011
Let's see what's in the AFC North mailbag this week for the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

Allan from Columbus, Ohio, and Kyle from Tiffin, Ohio, wants to know if free agent defensive end/linebacker Vernon Gholston could fit with the Browns.

James Walker: Someone will give Gholston another chance, Allan. But the Browns are switching to a 4-3 defense, and I don't see Gholston fitting into that scheme. I've covered New York Jets coach Rex Ryan since he was in Baltimore, and I have a lot of respect for his coaching ability, particularly on defense. If Ryan couldn't get anything out of Gholston in two years, there's a good chance he's legitimately a bust. Sometimes a change of scenery can help a player, but for Ryan to give up on Gholston says a lot.

Anton from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: What are the chances of Cleveland drafting a running back in the later rounds?

Walker: It's a very good possibility, Anton. The Browns relied on Peyton Hillis too much in the running and passing game last season, and as a result he got hurt late in the year. The Browns were really counting on 2010 second-round pick Montario Hardesty, but his history of knee injuries is a concern. Look for the Browns to take a scat-back type to complement Hillis in the middle or late rounds. One name to keep an eye on is Shane Vereen from Cal.

Brian from Solon, Ohio, writes: Does Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers' past injuries make him a big risk for the Bengals or Browns?

Walker: Brian, Bowers' knee injury and surgery probably drops him out of consideration for the first six picks. It's a shame because, if healthy, I think he would be a good fit in Cleveland or Cincinnati. Bowers led the nation with 15 sacks last year, and that kind of production is exactly what the Browns and Bengals need. But it's hard to invest such a high pick in a player when you're not sure he's healthy.

Jacob from Cincy wants to know if Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn is a trade possibility for the Bengals.

Walker: Jacob, it's hard to gauge interest in trades during this lockout because there is no movement and no discussions between teams and players. When I talk to people around the league, everything is really at a standstill aside from the draft. With free agency pushed back this year, I fully anticipate the Bengals' finding "Carson Palmer insurance" in this draft. That way they don't have to give up any compensation to other teams, and having a rookie quarterback still gives the Bengals flexibility of welcoming Palmer back as the starter without any issues if he has a change of heart this summer.
The AFC North blog continues its series with's college writers to take an in-depth look at potential prospects for the division.

On Wednesday we check in with Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg to get a scouting report on Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who is a potential target of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Adam, after watching Heyward closely the past few years, how would you break down his game?

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeye defensive end Cameron Heyward
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOhio State defensive end Cameron Heyward came through at big times for the Buckeyes.
Adam Rittenberg: There's a lot to like about Heyward even though he didn't have monster numbers his senior season. He boasts excellent size and can play both defensive line positions, as he showed for much of his college career. Heyward is a big-game player, as he showed with dominant performances against both USC and Penn State in 2009 and again in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, which was his best performance with the Buckeyes. Pro teams will be looking for more consistency out of him. Heyward understands the NFL life. His father Craig played in the league, and he has a definite maturity about him. He'd be a good pick for a team that uses a 3-4 scheme.

Should Heyward's late-season injury be a concern?

Rittenberg: The elbow injury isn't a concern to me. He suffered it in the second quarter of the Sugar Bowl and still went on to have his best game as a Buckeye.

Heyward has drawn some pro comparisons to Vernon Gholston, who was a star at Ohio State but a bust in the NFL. Fair or unfair?

Rittenberg: The Gholston comparisons are a little unfair. Heyward is more than just a pure pass rusher and played quite a bit on the inside at Ohio State, which does a nice job of moving around its linemen. Heyward can affect games without solely pressuring the quarterbacks.

Sanchez deal impacts Bengals

June, 11, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

New York Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has a couple of ties to the AFC North.

First, the former USC product was taken by the Jets after they traded up with the Cleveland Browns for the No. 5 overall pick. But second, and perhaps more importantly, the early contract signing by Sanchez will provide firm parameters for the Cincinnati Bengals to negotiate with the No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith.

Sanchez agreed to a five-year contract worth a maximum of $60 million Wednesday. Slotted just one spot lower, Smith's representatives can now use that number as a ceiling in negotiations, in addition to the five-year, $50 million deal Vernon Gholston received as last year's sixth pick as the minimum.

Many expect a tough negotiation between Smith and the Bengals, mostly because of Cincinnati's history of being tight with money. But at least New York's deal with Sanchez provides the potential for the Bengals and Smith's representatives to get started with meaningful discussions early.

Expected first-round contracts

May, 1, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Now that all 32 teams selected its rookies for the 2009 season, it's time to begin shifting more focus to the business side.

First-round contracts can be expensive but relatively easy to predict, because most deals are slotted by draft position with an incremental, annual raise.

With that in mind, here is approximately what AFC North first-rounders are scheduled to make, based on the 2008 class:

What's Your Rookie Worth?
Team Pick Player 2008 Pick Contract
Cincinnati No. 6 OT Andre Smith LB Vernon Gholston 5 years, $50M
Cleveland No. 21 C Alex Mack OT Sam Baker 5 years, $13M
Baltimore No. 23 OT Michael Oher RB Rashard Mendenhall 5 years, $12.55M
Pittsburgh No. 32 DL Evander Hood *S Kenny Phillips 5 years, $7.34M
*Phillips was the final pick, No. 31, in the first round because the New England Patriots were penalized a first-rounder for "Spygate" in 2008.