Let’s see what's in our AFC North inbox this week.
Brian from California wants to know if the Baltimore Ravens will field a top-10 defense in 2011.
James Walker: Every year people say the Ravens are getting too old on defense, and nearly every year they finish in the top 10. So until they prove otherwise, the safe money is on the Ravens' defense again. A big key will be the pass rush and the production of rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith. Is he ready to be the No. 1 corner right away? Time will tell. But if Smith is, the Ravens could be better defensively than last season.
Dave from Baltimore wants know how much blame should be put on Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Walker: Cameron definitely deserves blame, particularly with the play-calling. I thought the running game was out of rhythm all last season, and Cameron didn't do enough to get tailback Ray Rice the football consistently. But the offensive line also took a big step back last year, and I think that affected everything the Ravens wanted to do offensively. The Ravens missed Jared Gaither, Michael Oher wasn't the same on the left side, and the pass protection and run blocking in general were inconsistent. I would say both Cameron and the offensive line need to do a better job this year.
DJ Mitchell from Hamlim, N.Y., wants to know which Cleveland Browns receiver could surprise.
Walker: If I had to pick one, DJ Mitchell, it would be Mohamed Massaquoi. He's shown flashes over the past two seasons, and I think Massaquoi has some talent. He is just in a role that is too big as Cleveland's No. 1 receiver. Massaquoi faces the most double-teams for the Browns and often the opponent's best cornerback. Therefore, Massaquoi struggles to get open because he is not a true No. 1 option.
JMo from Bed-Stuy writes: Any idea who would take the Browns' third-string QB slot in Jake Delhomme's absence? Would you predict it ends up as a developmental type or a veteran type?
Walker: The third quarterback is not currently on the roster, JMo. I thought the Browns would draft one in the later rounds, but they didn't. There's still a chance Cleveland would keep Delhomme if he's willing to take a huge pay cut. But players often refuse when they can get a better deal somewhere else. If the Browns add another quarterback, it could be a young player to develop. Seneca Wallace has taken over the veteran backup role.
Kenny from Cincinnati writes: If the Pittsburgh Steelers lose cornerback Ike Taylor in free agency, do you think they would go after Johnathan Joseph?
Walker: Whew! I thought for a second you were going to ask about that other corner from the Oakland Raiders. But I think Joseph is going to be in a similar situation to Taylor's and be too pricey for Pittsburgh. I expect both corners should be able to command somewhere between $8 and $10 million per year. If the Steelers aren't willing to pay that much to keep Taylor, who knows the system, they probably won't do it for an outside free agent. Look for Carlos Rogers or Richard Marshall to be cheaper replacement options for Pittsburgh.
Mike Morrison from Boardman, Ohio, wants to know who will be the Cincinnati Bengals' No. 2 receiver.
Walker: We recently opened this question to our community, and readers voted Jerome Simpson as the most likely option. I think Andre Caldwell will give Simpson a good run in training camp, and it will probably be one of those two. I'm still not sure if Simpson caught lightning in a bottle at the end of last year or if he's finally turned the corner. Simpson still has to prove he's ready to be a full-time starter.
Comment and complaint department
Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: In what universe is Ike Taylor worth $8-$10M a year? Because he was the No. 1 corner on the best D in the league? Taylor came along for the ride, but he's barely been average since his strong starting debut in 2006. Stanford Routt is worth that kind of money because he's actually really good. Taylor is still trying to figure out [where] Greg Jennings is! I understand the market and perception that he's a starting-caliber corner will drive his price up, but I am PRAYING the Steelers don't fork out that kind of money for the guy. Heck, I wouldn't shell out more than $5M, and that's even a bit of a stretch. Not that anyone else on the roster is as "good" as Taylor, but they aren't significantly worse. The D will survive without him.
Walker: Wow, Taylor is right. Sometimes he gets little respect. Taylor is not an elite corner, but neither is Routt. As you mentioned, $8-$10 million seems to be the going rate for solid starting cornerbacks, and Taylor is in that group. I don’t believe the Steelers will fork over that kind of money, and if Taylor can get market value somewhere else, I expect him to take it.
Mike from Cincinnati writes: Just curious if you have seen what the Bengals have dubbed the "Who Dey Perspective"? It seems like a feeble and pathetic attempt by the organization to try an combat negative public opinion by sugar coating everything that fans view as negative. I find it in poor taste, and feel it is ridiculous that a team with the reputation of the Cincinnati Bengals think this is acceptable. What do you think?
Walker: Mike, I’ve read most or all of the "Who Dey Perspective" posts on the Bengals' team site and I don't think it's a bad idea. Cincinnati gets a lot of bad press here and elsewhere for its shaky decisions and regularly putting a poor product on the field. So if the Bengals want to give their side to the story, I think that’s fine. At the end of the day it’s up to the public to believe what it wants to believe.
Ben B writes: "A compelling case"? No. There is no compelling case for ditching your team for their big rivals unless you have no idea what it means to be a sports fan. You can't take someone's musical opinions seriously if every week their all-time favorite band is whoever is No. 1. Likewise, a true sports fan doesn't change with the tides. A compelling case? Nonsense.
Walker: Ben, I'm not arguing for Brett Kostoff to give up his fandom. In fact, I've said numerous times in the AFC North blog that Bengals and Browns fans shouldn't give up on their teams. All I said was Kostoff made a compelling case to explain why he gave up on the Bengals. By the way, the only reason he's a Steelers fan is that was the highest bidder on eBay. Kostoff could have easily been a Lions or Seahawks fan.
Homer of the Week
Our "Homer of the Week" comes from the NFC East. We have a big fan of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who didn't appreciate our recent comments on Romo getting too much hype with little results.
Foster from Chicago writes: Not quite sure what all the hate against Tony Romo is but it is definitely not appreciated. How can you not have respect for ANY player who comes out of being an undrafted free agent to become a starter? That takes A LOT of hard work. I would take Romo over any QB the AFCN has to offer. He's more consistent than Big Ben, he can carry a team better than Flacco and unlike Palmer, he has a playoff win. If Romo had an offensive line I feel like we'd be singing a different song.
Walker: Is my friend, former NFC East blogger Matt Mosley, playing a prank on me? I need to give him a call this weekend to make sure. Foster, you really think Romo is better than every AFC North quarterback, including Roethlisberger, who has been to three Super Bowls? Romo is a good quarterback but one playoff win does not make him elite. Flacco already has four in a shorter time frame, and he's not elite, either. Romo has had offensive lines in the past. He also currently has one of best supporting cast of skill players in the NFL. Dallas has three starting-caliber running backs, the best tight end in football and explosive receivers. Until I see the results match the enormous hype Romo receives for playing in Dallas, I will continue to say it doesn't add up.
Hater of the Week
Also, in an effort to evolve in the AFC North blog, we added a new feature to our weekend mailbag. Occasionally, we get some hate mail in our division inbox. So in addition to the AFC North "Homer of the Week," we will do an AFC North "Hater of the Week" when warranted.
Dan from Mexico writes: What is your obsession with Ben Roethlisburger and Troy Polamalu? First off, Troy is no doubt a great player and future Hall of Famer. However he was done last year and there's no denying it. Peter King's list is of the 50 best current players. As it looks, Troy is slowing down, with the injuries and his physical play. I saw him get burned numerous times last year. Ben on the other hand is highly overrated. His defense won each championship for him. Yeah, he's a good player. Are there 40 players better than him? I could name 50 maybe even 60. Colt McCoy could win a Super Bowl with that defense behind him.
Walker: Dan, congrats on being our first "Hater of the Week" in the AFC North blog. I find it strange how the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could be "done" in the same season. Polamalu had an Achilles injury that hurt his performance in the playoffs. But for his play in the regular season Polamalu, was voted the NFL's best defensive player. Also, I challenge you, Dan, to stay true to your word and email me 50-60 current players better than Roethlisberger. If you're up for it, we will run your list in the AFC North blog next week and leave it up to our community to decide if it's valid or you're blowing smoke.
If you have any future questions, complaints, homer or hater comments, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.