Let’s see what’s in the weekend mailbag.
Eric from Princeton, N.J., writes: Do you think Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards might be a case where playing opposite Jared Allen boosted his stats?Â He hopes theÂ Browns may beÂ interested in Edwards.
James Walker: That’s always a possibility. But I can’t penalize a player too much for having other great players around him. Edwards still put up solid numbers year after year by beating the guy in front of him. It’s up to the front office of the Browns to study the tape and determine his worth.
Charlie from Chardon, Ohio, writes: Do you think the Browns will take a flier on undrafted free agent Dane Sanzenbacher?
Walker: The rookie free-agent market will be wide open, and it’s hard to peg anyone to one particular team. But the Browns need all the help they can get at receiver and, thus, should consider all their options.
Greg from Cleveland wants to know if the Browns have any interest in San Francisco 49ers corner Nate Clements.
Walker: First, San Francisco will have to release Clements, who hasn’t played well after signing a huge contract a few years ago. Clements is a Cleveland native. But he’s on the downside of his career and is no longer an elite corner. I don’t think the Browns should get older in the secondary.
Gabe from Iowa wants to know how crazy the Cincinnati Bengals will go in free agency.
Walker: The Bengals have approximately $36 million to spend, and that number could approach $50 million if they release Chad Ochocinco and trade quarterback Carson Palmer. Cincinnati will be forced to spend, so expect some additions. I also think their chances of re-signing corner Johnathan Joseph increase, as well.
Adam Lawson from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Reading your article “Inside the mind of a GM” makes me even more depressed about being a Bengals fan and shows just how undermanned their front office really is. What, if anything, will make them expand so they are on the same playing field as the rest of the NFL?
Walker: Although I believe it makes sense to hire more scouts and a general manager, that doesn’t mean it will happen. The Bengals have done business the same way for a long time, and despite not winning one playoff game in the past 20 years, I’m not sure they’re convinced their way doesn’t work.
Dan from Pittsburgh wants to know if Steelers receiver Hines Ward and tailback Rashard Mendenhall will face disciplinary action.
Walker: Of all the AFC North players who landed in hot water this offseason, I think Ward and Mendenhall are the safest. This is Ward’s first run-in with the law in 14 seasons. He may get a slap on the wrist, but that’s it. Mendenhall tweeted about controversial topics, but that won’t lead to a suspension from the NFL. He already lost his endorsement with Champion.
Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii wants to know if the Steelers being about $10 million over the cap will force a youth movement.
Walker: Not necessarily. Yes, the Steelers will have to cut veteran contracts. But they will still keep most of their experienced starters. I think the biggest issue could be Pittsburgh’s inability to sign major free agents, particularly cornerback Ike Taylor. But the Steelers don’t sign many big free agents anyway.
Sean McMahon of Pittsburgh wants to know why people expect a breakout year from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Walker: This is only Flacco’s fourth season, and despite the critics, he’s making progress. Flacco’s regular-season numbers improved in every major statistical category in 2010. The problem is Flacco hasn’t made major strides in the playoffs, which stands out for most people. That’s the natural next step for Flacco.
Comment and complaint department
Here are the latest comments and complaints this week from our AFC North community.
Jonathan from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes: Hi James. You keep on ripping the Bengals all offseason saying how they suck and they can do nothing right. They’re completely starting over etc. Why do you not look past the record from last year and actually look at the games themselves. Although they lost 12 games, the Bengals were close in pretty much every game they played. Even without Palmer we will finish at or above .500. We will be in contention this year despite your insistence about how bad we are.
Walker: Contrary to popular belief, I actually like what the Bengals are doing, which is completely starting over. In fact, I wrote that they should hit the reset button back in November before anyone else, and Bengals fans killed me for it. All I’m saying is 2011 is a rebuilding year with a lot of new pieces. That’s why I believe Cincinnati is at least two years away from contending again. As far as your prediction, I think it would be really tough for Cincinnati to finish 9-7 or better this year.
Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: JW – Frankly it’s shocking that you question whether the Browns should be favored over the Bengals. Better record last year, we know who our QB is, we have no major losses from last year’s team. Whereas the Bengals lose Ocho, T.O. and Carson and perhaps most importantly, the game is in Cleveland.
Walker: One club was a five-win team and the other was a four-win team. I don’t think you can put Cleveland head-and-shoulders above Cincinnati because of one win. I think most people view the Browns and Bengals in the same boat as rebuilding teams. Free agency will be huge, because both teams have a lot of cap room.
Tim from Oswego, N.Y., writes: Been awful quiet from the Sergio Kindle camp lately, he’s been ‘cleared’ to play but does he really stand a chance at making an impact in the next one or two years? The Ravens need a solution for Ray Lewis because although he’s still playing like a monster, he can’t carry a team forever.
Walker: Kindle has been cleared for contact, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely out of the woods. No one knows how Kindle will respond to full contract after fracturing his skull last summer. So that will be the true test.
Jhony Hernandez from Hyattsville, Md., (Stand up!) writes: Hey, I see your from Hyattsville. Did you go to Northwestern by any chance?? Pretty inspiring to see someone from my neck of the woods on ESPN. Keep up the good work.
Walker: Thanks for the hometown love, Jhony. I went to High Point High School and Northwestern was our rival. But it’s all good. If you see me around the way next time, holla.
AFC North “Homer of the Week”
After a lot of haters came from Steeler Nation last week after my prediction that Baltimore would win the division in 2011, our latest “Homer of the Week” is a Steelers fan.
Rawleigh B. from Birmingham, Ala., writes: I believe that my Steelers will go 15-1, losing the only game to the Patriots. They will be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and advance to the Super Bowl after avenging the regular-season lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. They will win the Super Bowl. There will be no Super Bowl letdown this year and whatever off-the-field issues will be handled in the locker room. Thanks again, Mr. Walker.
Walker: Sorry to break it to you, Rawleigh, but the Steelers will lose more than one game this year. The Steelers have never gone 18-1 all the way to the Super Bowl in their history, and the league is too balanced for that to happen now. But congrats on being our “Homer of the Week.”
If you have any additional questions, complaints or homer or hater comments, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.