Chat with James Walker
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker will stop by to chat about the NFL and what to expect from your team.
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch.
Send your questions now and join James Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Good afternoon, everyone. The NFL combine and free agency will be here before you know it. So let's get to some AFC North questions.
Travis (Athens, OH)
There has been recent speculation that the Bengals are considering moving Rey Maualuga to ILB and Dhani Jones out to Maualuga's current spot at strong OLB. What are your thoughts on this move? Obviously, Rey is our starting ILB of the future, but is next season too soon for this move?
James Walker (4:02 PM)
The Bengals have been talking about this internally since Rey Maualuga was drafted. The problem is Jones plays well in the same spot, so they had to find a way to get Rey on the field at OLB. Eventually this will happen. But it may be another year away.
James,Are the Bengals perusing Marshall or Boldion at all? Please don't say we are done looking for WR's after we signed Jones! Please shine some light...-Ryan
James Walker (4:04 PM)
To my knowledge Marshall and Boldin are not likely, because those two players have high trade values and want huge contracts. The Bengals do not want to give up a first and possibly a third-round pick, and turn around and extend these guys with a four- or five-year deals. That's why a short-term solution like Terrell Owens is more attractive to Cincinnati.
Could Cincinnati justify drafting defense in Round 1?
James Walker (4:06 PM)
They could but it wouldn't be smart. The Bengals had the No. 4 defense in the NFL last year. There are not a lot of holes on that side of the football. The offense is another story. It could use upgrades at WR, TE and maybe at guard depending on what happens in free agency.
Korey (Youngstown, OH)
What are the Browns trying to accomplish this off-season?
James Walker (4:08 PM)
That's a broad question, Korey. The broad answer is erase the large talent gap within the division with 11 draft picks and money to spend in free agency.
Have you heard anything from the Ravens' reserve recievers like Harper and Riley, if theyve made improvements?
James Walker (4:10 PM)
Justin Harper showed some flashes in camps and practices last year. So there may be something there. I haven't seen or heard much from Riley, although there seems to be a minor buzz around him in Baltimore. The offseason program will be huge for both players.
Do you think the rule about the top 8 teams FA signing restrictions may end up in the new CBA?
James Walker (4:12 PM)
It depends on the future of the salary cap. If the cap is gone forever there's a good chance rules like this will remain to try to maintain a competitive balance. If the cap returns, the Final Eight Plan could just be a one-year thing.
Robert (Latrobe, PA)
Let's assume that Hampton isn't franchised and is allowed to walk (unlikely, I know). Is Hood a potential candidate, at least for the short-term? I know he's more naturally a 3-4 DE, but if von Oelhoffen can do it, I bet Hood could at least be competent. Plus, guys like Jason Ferguson and Jay Ratliff have shown that you don't necessarily need a 325-pound guy in the middle to run the 3-4 successfully.
James Walker (4:14 PM)
I seriously doubt Hampton walks for nothing. The Steelers are smarter than that. But in the event that happens, Chris Hoke or a draft pick would probably be the first candidates in line to replace the "Big Snack."
How would you evaluate the Bengals' TE situation?
James Walker (4:15 PM)
Not good. Needs improvement.
Mike (Chicago, IL)
I know its early to speculate on the draft, but what about the Steelers grabbing LeGarrette Blount in the 3 - 4th round? He would be a great compliment to the smaller Mendenhall. Many scouts had him as a first round pick before the punching incident. What do you think??
James Walker (4:17 PM)
I actually like Blount as a player. I just question his character. The combine and interview process will be huge for him to erase all of those doubts, because I think physically he can contribute for any team at the next level.
FRANK DEL CAMPO (CHINO HILLS, CA)
What do you think of the Steelers self imposing a salaray cap in 2010? Is this a wise thing to do or should they hit free agency hard like other teams will?
James Walker (4:19 PM)
I think the Steelers planned this out carefully and are one of the few teams that can probably pull it off. They have never been about free agency anyway. So this isn't a surprise. I'm not 100-percent sure this could work long-term if the cap never comes back. But for right now, 2010, they should be fine.
Chris (Lynchburg, VA)
James, Do you think there is a possibility the Steelers could make a play for a top O-Line or D-Lineman in free agency if Casey Hampton doesn't sign?
James Walker (4:22 PM)
Not likely. As I mentioned, the Steelers are not big players in free agency. To go for a guy like Vince Wilfork, etc. would be out of character for the type of money they would have to spend. They can just keep their guy (Hampton) with the tag if push comes to shove.
James what is the ravens biggest need either thru draft or free agency?
James Walker (4:23 PM)
Receiver first, cornerback second, then another pass rusher, although it's possible Paul Krugar could be that guy in his second year.
James, do you think that the browns will be one of the more active spenders in FA this offseason? Randy Lerner isn't afraid of spending money to win.
James Walker (4:26 PM)
The Browns have the money to spend. But this year will not be a big year for free agency. So it's really a odd combo for them to want to spend but can't, because most of the great players will be off the market.
What teams are in the AFC North? Thanks.
James Walker (4:28 PM)
Wow. I hope that was a joke, Larry.
James, there seems to be no talk about the Steelers looking at Terrence Cody to replace Snack next year. Is there a knack against Cody other than his weight that I haven't heard about?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
The weight is the big thing, as you mentioned, Steve. Most teams view that as a multi-layered issue that goes into work ethic and desire to play football. Sometimes that's correct. Sometimes it isn't. But before the draft when teams are trying to offer you millions of dollars, if a prospect can't get in shape for that, then when will he?
Did the Browns win streak at the end of last season save Mangini's job?
James Walker (4:33 PM)
It was definitely a factor, Pierre. Players began responding to the new program and Mangini's way of doing things late in the year. Mike Holmgren is a longtime coach and knows that one year isn't enough to judge that position. So that factored in as well.
do you think keenan lewis can become a productive corner this year, same quetion for joe burnette
James Walker (4:36 PM)
Of the two, I think Lewis has more of the physical tools for Pittsburgh's system. He has the size that I think the Steelers are looking for. Burnett is probably a little quicker. I don't like to completely label players after one year (the Troy Polamalu rule). So let's see what they have this year.
The way some people are talking is that Mangini kept his job because Holmgren may want to get a few things in place before hopping back into the coaches seat...what is your take on that viewpoint?
James Walker (4:40 PM)
Mike Holmgren still has the itch to coach. He's admitted that several times. He also didn't think it was fair to fire a coach after one year. If things don't work out next season, Holmgren gets to keep his options open while still being open and fair to Eric Mangini.
chris (scottsburg indiana)
u.k will beat syracuse in the tourney. this year to be champs GO BIG BLUE...
James Walker (4:40 PM)
Watch out for those Temple Owls this year, too.
Ryan (Crofton MD)
Do you think the Ravens will go after Marshall now that they are willing to take a player with charactor risk?
James Walker (4:42 PM)
It really depends on the price, Ryan. It would be very, very surprising if the Ravens give up their first- and third-round pick for Marshall, which will probably be the going rate to start off. Now, if Denver lowers its price, I think the chances of Baltimore taking a chance on Marshall increases.
Brett (Avon Lake, OH)
James,It's easy for fans to look forward to off season acquisitions, but do you the off season as a key developmental time for any young players already on a teams roster, such as Cleveland's David Veikune and Brian Robiskie?
James Walker (4:44 PM)
Absolutely. These were two important second-round picks who didn't show much in their rookie years. But like I said earlier, I think it's unfair to label players after one season. The offseason program will be important for these two, as well.
The Saints recent Super Bowl win has me believing that one day my Browns can win a Super Bowl. What do you say to a newly hopeful Cleveland fan?
James Walker (4:44 PM)
Find a Drew Brees.
Let's say the Eagles trade Kolb or McNabb to the Browns what do you think it would cost the Browns to get either one of them and which one do you think the Browns should go after
James Walker (4:47 PM)
This would be extremely expensive for the Browns. At least a first-round pick would be involved for either player, and probably an additional pick or two after that. Is that worth it for Cleveland? That's for the team to decide. But good quarterbacks are not easy to come by. Everyone knows what Donovan McNabb can do. Kevin Kolb is a bit of an unknown, but Browns GM Tom Heckert knows his skills very well.
I thought Alex Mack had an under the rader season as a rookie for the browns
James Walker (4:49 PM)
Mack had a very good second half of his rookie season. He will be a good player and a good fit in the division. I predicted as much before last year's draft.
Walker my man. Been a while. How goes it? How about my Jets? Before the season started you said, win or lose its going to be fun. You were definitely right. Hope all is well man.
James Walker (4:51 PM)
Steiny, what's up? Rex Ryan is one of a kind. I knew his big personality in New York would be very entertaining. Going to the AFC title game didn't hurt, either.
Joe (Knox County)
How long do you think it will take Josh Cribbs to get completely fed up with the Browns organization and want out?
James Walker (4:53 PM)
Things nearly reached a boiling point after the season, but cooler heads are prevailing. I think both sides will work this out in the end. I just don't have a timeline for it to happen.
Do you think next year that the bengals are going to run the ball more or pass the ball more? Do you think the bengals will mix up there plays a little more this year?
James Walker (4:55 PM)
If the Bengals get the upgrades they covet, they will pass the ball more than last season. Balance is still key. But there were times last year when they needed to pass and couldn't, because they were so easy to defend.
Mike F. (Columbus, Ohio)
Do you think the Browns are looking at upgrading the RB position, or will they stand pat with RFA Harrison, Davis, and Jennings?
James Walker (4:59 PM)
Cleveland needs to get Jerome Harrison under contract, first. But the team would like to pair him with a bigger back in the draft or free agency. I don't think Jennings is the answer. Davis showed some flashes in the preseason but still has a lot to prove.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Everyone, thanks again for your time this week. Remember to check out the AFC North blog for constant updates during the offseason.