AFC North weekly mailbag

I know we usually open the mailbag on weekends, but the start of free agency and Hines Ward's retirement pushed this week's edition to Wednesday. So, take a few minutes out of the middle of the week and let's pretend it's the weekend.

Mike from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Given the Steelers' salary cap issues, might it be wise to release James Harrison in order to sign Mike Wallace to a long-term deal now? Historically we have been able to plug in just about any linebacker and have success. Even Harrison had been cut multiple times before making it big. Personally, I think somebody like Stevenson Sylvester could transition into that role nicely. I just think that in a passing league, Mike Wallace's deep threat is much more significant to the success of the team than Harrison.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: You are certainly right that Harrison takes up a chunk of the salary cap. Harrison is due $5.565 million in base salary with a cap number of $9.03 million. But there's very little chance of the Steelers cutting him. The more likely scenario is restructuring the contract of Harrison and possibly safety Troy Polamalu to free up the cap room needed to sign Wallace to a multi-year deal. Harrison is getting older (turns 34 in May) and he didn't have his best season last year. But he was coming off two back surgeries in 2011. I expect a much stronger Harrison this season.

Alex from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, writes: Do you think the Browns sigining Frostee Rucker adresses their need for a starter at right defensive end? Or should they still look for one in the draft?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: Rucker isn't Mario Williams, but he will fill the void at defensive end. There's little question that Rucker is an upgrade over Jayme Mitchell if he remains healthy. Rucker's impact will come on first and second downs. He's known for stopping the run. The Browns still need to find a stronger pass rush presence opposite Jabaal Sheard.

John from Annapolis, Md., writes: What are the odds of Anquan Boldin returning to Pro Bowl form next season? This is his first full offseason with Joe Flacco because of the trade from Arizona in his first year and the NFL lockout. Perhaps that is why the two haven't clicked. Also, the Ravens can't possibly retain Billy Cundiff, right? He has no leg nor the confidence for next season.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: The odds aren't great that Boldin will become a Pro Bowl receiver in 2012. During the past two offseasons -- even during the lockout -- Flacco and Boldin spent time throwing around the ball in an attempt to improve chemistry. The addition of Boldin hasn't worked as planned. Boldin isn't a fast receiver and doesn't get great separation. Flacco has seemed hesitant to throw into tight windows for Boldin. In his five seasons before joining the Ravens, Boldin never caught fewer than 71 passes. In his two seasons with the Ravens, he hasn't caught more than 64.

As far as Cundiff, he will be given a chance to come back. But I suspect he will be given competition for the job. Shayne Graham seems to be a logical candidate again.

Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: I understand the Bengals don't want to go crazy spending tons of money on free agents, but if I remember correctly there is a rule now being instated that requires teams to pay a minimum percentage of the salary cap. Given the rookie cap, how are the Bengals planning on reaching that percentage without having to intentionally overpay players? It seems like the Bengals not only completely blew it on missing out on the top two guards in free agency and adding a nice No. 2 wide receiver to compliment AJ Green, but they have really put themselves in a hole towards paying the minimum percentage of the salary cap.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: The minimum spending requirement goes into effect in 2013, not this year. Teams will be required to spend 89 percent of that year's salary cap. Opening up the wallet has become essential in the NFL these days. As the Houston Chronicle's John McClain pointed out, the five highest-spending teams in 2011 (the Steelers, Falcons, Giants, Texans and Lions) all made the playoffs while only one of the five lowest-spending teams (the Jaguars, Broncos, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Seahawks) reached the postseason.