AFC North mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Keep flooding the AFC North mailbag and I will get to as many inquires as I can.

Jon from Scranton, PA writes: Hey James, love the blog! I would say Hines Ward has a good 3-4 years left, but as we know, he only has one year left on his contract. Can you see him following in the footsteps of Jerome Bettis and taking a pay cut? I mean, Hines got his huge payday a few years ago and has always been a team player. It makes sense to me that he'd take a cut, finish as a Steeler, and be a part of another championship team while freeing up cap room for younger studs. Thoughts?

James Walker: I'm not sure what you define as a "pay cut," Jon. Ward will play out the final year of his contract in 2009 and look to sign a new one if he doesn't retire. He certainly will not seek more money than his last contract because of his age, if that's what you're getting at. I cannot speak for Ward, but my guess is he finishes his career with Pittsburgh or decides to hang them up. Either way, he retires a Steeler.

Luke from Greenville, Ohio writes: Hey James! My question is about the Bengals. With Housh more than likely out the door and Chad up as trade bait right now. Do you think the Bengals can stand a chance this season if they lose both of these guys?

James Walker: As regular readers of this blog will point out, I've been down on the Bengals from the start, Luke. I've lived in Ohio for six years and covered Cincinnati in my previous job, so I know the team pretty well. It's not a well-built, well-run franchise and that's important in this league. As I've said several times, the Bengals won four games with these players last season. They can win four games next year without them and start over.

Jimmy writes: Is there any possibility that the Browns could trade down in the draft maybe pick up Buckeye linebacker James Laurinaitis?

James Walker: Jimmy, the Browns need impact players on defense. The lack thereof has hurt them the past few seasons. There are reasons to trade down, but if Cleveland wants a difference maker, it would be safe to keep the pick. Laurinaitis might turn out to be a good NFL player, but chances are the surest pick is in the top 5.

Kevin O'B writes: James, I read your previous article and recent one concerning the possibility of the Ravens playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thursday night football and feel it would be quite unfair for the Ravens to have to play Steelers on national TV for the 4th time in 3 years, did you take that into account? Seems to me the Ravens are due for their own home Thursday, Sunday or Monday night football game against the Steelers to even up the tally, how about you?

James Walker: Kevin, I think it's a good thing that the NFL wants to showcase the Ravens-Steelers rivalry in primetime. If Baltimore plays in Pittsburgh in the season opener, it doesn't mean the city can't host its own prime-time game later in the year. It's possible the other Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore could in prime-time as well, be it a Sunday night or Monday night game.

Rob from Edmonton, AB, Canada writes: James, Enjoy your insight about the AFC North, biggest Bengal fan north of the border. Where do you see them going with the 6th pick overall? A LT like everyone is saying or a run stuffer like a B.J. Raji form BC? Is Benson the answer at the RB position or do they need another piece like a 2nd round pick like a Shonne Greene or Rashad Jennings? Thanks for your time Cold in Canada

James Walker: Thanks for the kind words, Rob. Cincinnati needs offensive linemen, particularly tackles, so the team could take Andre Smith from Alabama or Jason Smith of Baylor, whoever is available at No. 6. I'm still not convinced Benson is a feature back in the NFL, so the Bengals should take a running back later in the draft whether Benson re-signs or not. History has proven that good players can be found at that position after the first round.