AFC North mailbag: Ravens vs. Steelers

Let's see what's in our AFC North inbox this week.

Josh F. from North Carolina wants to know how the Pittsburgh Steelers should attack free agency when the lockout ends.

James Walker: John, my first order of business would be No. 1 corner Ike Taylor, who is an unrestricted free agent. I would make him a quality offer right away to make him think before the bidding war begins with other teams. Not $8-$10 million per year, but enough to make Taylor strongly consider returning. Taylor may accept less to stay in Pittsburgh. But I would be prepared to have a Plan B ready if Taylor takes a higher offer. Second, I would patch some minor holes like backup running back, and either re-sign Chris Hoke or add another nose tackle to back up Casey Hampton. The Steelers don't have a ton of holes outside of cornerback.

Vince from Maryland writes: With the Baltimore Ravens having Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Torrey Smith, and the Steelers low on corners, do you think the Ravens can exploit that weakness and come out on top in Week 1?

Walker: Oh, an early prediction for Week 1, I see. Unfortunately, Vince, I'm not ready to go there. It's too early. But the Ravens are trying diligently to build a team to beat Pittsburgh, and depending on what happens with the Steelers' secondary, this could be a big advantage for Baltimore. Smith brings much-needed speed to the Ravens, but he will have to first earn a role in training camp. Quarterback Joe Flacco also is expected to get even better throwing the ball in his fourth year.

Puckett from Fort Collins, Colo., wants to know what was the difference between the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals defense and the 2009 defense.

Walker: This is not an easy answer, Puckett, because it was a combination of things. In no particular order, I think it was young players struggling, injuries in the secondary and no pass rush with the exception of Carlos Dunlap in the last eight games. In 2009, the Bengals caught a lot of breaks defensively. Their young starters -- such as Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers -- stepped up two years ago but didn't play as well last season. Cincinnati also had injuries in 2010 to starting corner Johnathan Joseph and safety Chris Crocker, which caused a domino effect because its pass rush has been an issue for a while. Overall the defense became mediocre.

Jason from Las Vegas writes: What do you think of the Browns signing Vernon Gholston?

Walker: If Gholston comes on the cheap, Jason, maybe he's worth the risk. But I would stay away and not risk the future of Cleveland's defensive line on Gholston turning the corner. I covered Rex Ryan when he was in Baltimore, and I have a lot of respect for his defensive knowledge. If Ryan couldn't get anything out of Gholston in two years, it's pretty safe to say Gholston is a bust.