Chat with James Walker
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch. He also covered the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Cavaliers at the Dispatch. Walker grew up in Hyattsville, Md., before attending Temple University, graduating in 2001 with a B.A. in communications and mass media. He resides in the Cleveland area.
Send your questions now and join Walker on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Hey everyone. How was your holidays? It's an interesting week to chat because half the teams are still playing and half are looking forward to 2009. So I will try to mix in a blend of current questions and questions looking ahead to next year. Let's do it.
Carla Minot, North Dakota
What is the fate of Marvin Lewis and Chad Johnson. I feel he hurts the team then helps unlike TJ but TJ doesn't want to be the franchise's face.
James Walker (4:02 PM)
Hello Carla. How is ND? We don't get too many NFL fans from that state. Marvin Lewis is safe. It's been that way all season and I'll be surprised if anything has changed, especially after the strong finish. Chad Ocho Cinco is up in the air. He wants out, but I'm not sure the team will be happy with what they can get for him anymore.
How realistic is it that Pioli will come here? Who would be the back up if he doesn't?
James Walker (4:05 PM)
He is a real possibility, Joe. Randy Lerner wants him and Pioli is definitely interested. I don't see Pioli in NE after this season. Cleveland will have to compete with Kansas City and Detroit, which is not too stiff. So the Browns have a good shot. The list drops off from there with former GMs like Charlie Casserly and Floyd Reese, and a few others.
Carla Minot, North Dakota
I was born in Cincy and have gone to Bengals Training camp almost every summer until now. North Dakota is snow and more snow. Where do you think the Bengals should pick for 2009?
James Walker (4:06 PM)
Got it, Carla. The Bengals are probably going to go off. or def. line with the No. 6 pick. They need some bigs. If they do not re-sign Cedric Benson, a RB is also possible.
Merlin , Baltimore, MD
What's the best way for the Ravens to land a true # 1 wide receiver? Any free agents that could be interested in Baltimore, especially after it makes a historic playoff run?
James Walker (4:09 PM)
Merlin, what's good? I wrote in a recent blog that the Ravens don't expect to make a huge splash at WR in free agency. The source said that's not in the plans as of Dec., but of course a lot can change. Baltimore does have a lot of key players of its own that it wants to keep such as Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Jason Brown.
The PD is reporting that Romeo might stay on as an assistant. Why would he and wouldn't it cause divides among the team and undermine the new coach if he stuck around?
James Walker (4:10 PM)
It's an accurate report, Joe. I'm hearing it really depends on the people hired. Guys like Pioli, Josh McDaniels, even Eric Mangini all worked with Romeo in New England. Crennel is a very positive and likeable guy. He's also a great def. coordinator. It could work.
Eric from Twentynine Palms CA
What do the Steelers need to do on offense to get that spark and get to the superbowl? The D will take them far but I dont think just the D can take them to the bowl.
James Walker (4:12 PM)
They need to run the ball well, which has been a problem all year, Eric. Willie Parker had a good game against Cleveland, so maybe that's a start. Pittsburgh has two weeks to really examine what's wrong, so it's possible the O can improve.
Derick Young Casper, WY
James, who do you see improving their odds in the 09' season, Cleveland or Cinci? I would take Cleveland, as I am a Steelers fan I just threw up in my mouth. Excuse me.
James Walker (4:14 PM)
Be careful Derick. Long time since we spoke, I believe. Cleveland still has some good pieces on paper, so I would give them the edge. But without a GM, coach, draft and free agency to go on, it's really hard to project. Things can look different in May or June with some quality moves.
With the 32nd pick in the draft, will the Steelers be able to effectively upgrade their O-line? Thanks.
James Walker (4:17 PM)
Is that a SB prediction, Ryan? Good linemen can always be found on the first day. If you have a good system, usually some that fall can be coached up to fit that system well if they already have some natural ability.
Any chance T.J. Houshmandzadeh stays in Cincinnati?
James Walker (4:19 PM)
There is a chance, Steiny. I would probably say around 40 percent, a little less than 50-50. T.J. wants a long-term deal and the Bengals likely aren't going to give it to him. If he stays, it could be with the franchise tag, which the Bengals have used the past two years.
What's it going to take to keep Ray in Baltimore? 4 yr w/$20m guaranteed?
James Walker (4:21 PM)
You know what, Alex, I haven't really talked numbers with anyone. That's something that is yet to be discussed on either side. But as far as length, Lewis wants something in the 3-4 year range where he can play it out as his last contract.
Why can't the Steelers execute a screen pass...
James Walker (4:24 PM)
They don't have the personnel for it. You would be surprised how many teams cannot run a screen pass effectively. I've watched Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis botch that play for two straight years. Some teams, like the Eagles, just have the right combo of QB-RB-OL to execute it.
McFadden, Starks and Marvel Smith are all unrestricted free agents. Who stays, who goes?
James Walker (4:25 PM)
McFadden has the best chance. I think Pittsburgh will clean house with the o-line.
Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh, PA)
Did I goof by having Ben in that meaningless game?
James Walker (4:27 PM)
Coach, enjoy your bye week. We're not doing NFL players and coaches this week.
Who is the wild card team,in your opinion who will get to the super bowl.I say Indy
James Walker (4:28 PM)
Indy is dangerous. I've been so deep in work that I haven't had time to really think that far ahead.
PJ Charlotte, OH
Why in the name of Jim Brown is Man"genius" getting interviewed for the Browns HC Job? Didn't his team just self destruct? Isn't he Romeo, only having started with a better cupboard?
James Walker (4:30 PM)
The Browns were very interested in hiring Mangini four years ago as Romeo's D-coordinator. But NE promoted him to the same post and he stayed for one year then left to NY. Mangini has ties to Cleveland and he has experience and winning seasons with the Jets. I understand the interest.
Possibilities of Braylon or K2 donning different uniforms in 2009?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
Again, with Phil Savage gone it's hard to tell what the new regime plans to do. Of the two, K2 is the most likely to be moved.
SC_RAVEN_FAN (Greenville, SC)
James, I'm baffled by the Lerner's decision about Phil Savage. He brought more talent to that team than they could handle. Was it his coaching position picks? personality conflicts?
James Walker (4:33 PM)
There was a lot of conflict behind the scenes with Savage. Stuff that, if you're 10-6, can probably be glossed over. But when you're 4-12, it's more of an issue. Of course, Lerner also didn't feel there was enough talent on the team. He held both Savage and Crennel accountable and not just one party.
Will J (Portland, OR)
What other coaching candidates are the Browns looking into other than Mangini?
James Walker (4:35 PM)
The Pats' Josh McDaniels is another hot name I'm hearing. But, really, it will depend on the GM hire. Because that person will likely get to pick the next HC. It should be in his job description.
ben (sanibel island, fl)
Who do you have as MVP for each team in the division?
James Walker (4:36 PM)
Reed, Polamalu, Housh, Shaun Rogers
Steeler Nation (waiting for the playoffs)
James, we just wanted to pass along our heartfelt condolences to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on missing the playoffs. Better luck next year, guys!
James Walker (4:37 PM)
They have been the biggest thorn in your side for a while. Let's see what you do without them in the tourney.
Byron (Cola, S.C. Browns Backers)
Hey James, love the AFC North Blog! My question is why not bring in GM Floyd Reese, hire Jeff Fisher as coach, then sign Haynesworth in FA?
James Walker (4:38 PM)
Big time fantasy football, Byron. Although Reese is a possibility, Fisher isn't going anywhere and the Browns already have Shaun Rogers.
Scott (Phx, AZ)
Wow McDaniels! Realy? Just what the Browns need anouther coordnator with no HC experience... I mean it worked out so well last time!
James Walker (4:40 PM)
There's been a lot of talk around the league that if Pioli gets another job, his first choice would be McDaniels. So if Pioli lands in Cleveland...
Nick (Owings Mills, MD)
James, please put this to bed for us, best safety in the NFL is _______?
James Walker (4:41 PM)
Free or strong?
Why is Marvin Lewis not out the door?
James Walker (4:44 PM)
Most people inside and outside the league feel Marvin Lewis is a decent head coach. He works for the Bengals, so he doesn't get equal footing with 90 percent of the HCs around the league. It sounds harsh, but a lot of smart football people will tell you that. Lewis also has two years remaining on his contract and Mike Brown isn't one to fire and pay two head coaches at the same time like other teams.
I believe to be more direct, Nick from MD is referring to Reed Vs. Polumalu. My question is, why such a debate, you can't go wrong with either guy and they are both so good that it's a tough debate.
James Walker (4:46 PM)
I'll take Troy as my strong and Ed as my free. We discussed this weeks ago. Maybe we will revisit it if they happen to play again.
James are there any chances of the Steelers trading up in the draft for an OL or moving for one or two in free agency. They would seem to need to make some drastic changes quick to preserve the health of Ben and the RB core.
James Walker (4:48 PM)
If the Steelers have learned anything this season, it's that Ben cannot take another year of getting pounded every single week. It's been three years now where he's taking shot after shot. I see Pittsburgh making a lot of improvements there because it's really the team's only major hole.
Ramon (Dallas, TX)
With all the Pioli talk, what type of power does he currently have with the Patriots? Is Belicheck REALLY running the show?
James Walker (4:50 PM)
Pioli has the title of GM, but in reality Bill Belichick has the final say on the 53-man roster. To most GMs, that final say is the most important thing. They do all the scouting, so they want to make the tough calls.
Dave (Westminster, MD)
I can agree with Ryan winning Offensive ROY, but not 1 vote for Flacco?? What do you think?
James Walker (4:53 PM)
Ryan deserved the honor. I don't have a problem with it.
Anthony (Rocky River, OH)
Yo James, thanks for the chat. With McDaniels being so young and a Belichek disciple, no one knows much about him. What can you tell us Browns fan about him that might make us more open to him being a head coach next season?
James Walker (4:55 PM)
I'm not interested in selling any coaching candidates to fans, Anthony. That's the Browns' job. I will say McDaniels is very good with quarterbacks (Brady, Cassel), and that will be something very important in working with the other Brady...Brady Quinn.
Will J (Portland, OR)
James, if you were starting a defense, which position would you pick first (DT, DE, LB, S, CB)? Why?
James Walker (4:57 PM)
If all the players are equal? I'm going defensive line. I like to build my teams from the line of scrimmage back. The trenches are where games are won.
I know you're not taking questions for coaches, but will you please pass along the correct spelling of my name to your loyal followers?
Neil brandt laplata md
hey james i'm in the military and stationed in san diego i dont get to see to much stuff on tv for the ravens so being home for the holidays is a big treat in so many ways. i read the blog everyday usaully reading the ravens and steelers fans go at it... I do have two questions though. Now that we have seen the ravens getting the quarterback that they needed what should the ravens go after in the draft? do you think that flacco will do better next year then this year? thank you for you time!
James Walker (5:01 PM)
Hey Neil. Thanks for reading the blog. Baltimore has good depth in most places except CB and WR. I think they will go in one of those directions, especially with a late first-round pick.
James Walker (5:02 PM)
Hey everyone, thanks again. I will be covering the Ravens and Dolphins this weekend so check back for the game reports and don't forget to read the blog during the week. -JW