AFC North: Rick Spielman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will begin in earnest their next search for a franchise quarterback at the NFL scouting combine next week, with a first-time head coach, an offensive coordinator who has worked with everyone from Troy Aikman to Brandon Weeden, and a general manager who has so far been unable to find the former and has unearthed too many of the latter.

The Vikings will likely add a young quarterback to their roster this offseason, and they could bring in a veteran, too, either by re-signing Matt Cassel -- who opted out of his 2014 contract last week -- or by adding another free agent this spring. They will be aggressive at the position, general manager Rick Spielman said, but they also know they can't reach for a quarterback with the eighth overall pick just to take one at the top of the draft.

Not with the effects of what happened last time they took a quarterback in the first round still so fresh in their minds.

"You go out and do your due diligence and do everything you possibly can to make those decisions right," Spielman said at his pre-combine news conference on Friday. "We really felt, coming out of the playoffs (in 2012), and the way Christian (Ponder) was playing, because he played well toward the end of the season -- he started out strong, and went in that dip, and started to come, that, 'Hey, this is a second-year guy that's on the come,' and the inconsistencies, didn't carry over last year. That's going to make us look and re-evaluate that position. Like I said, it isn't because we're not here working our rear ends off, trying to get it right, but I think teams that don't have a franchise guy are always going to be doing that."

Ponder is under contract for 2014, and "will be here," Spielman said, but the Vikings certainly aren't proceeding with him at the forefront of their plans. He wouldn't rule out the possibility of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner being able to help Ponder put things together, but it's clear Ponder has burned through his time with the benefit of the doubt.

"Well, right now we’re looking at quarterbacks, so we would say we don’t have that position solidified," Spielman said. "I know Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven’t come together for him. Sometimes you look at the history of [Alex] Smith, who was out in San Francisco. Sometimes maybe it clicks, maybe it doesn’t. Baltimore went through it a little bit with Kyle Boller, and then they went through it with Joe Flacco. I know we talk about Seattle, they went through their [struggles] and then they hit on Russell Wilson in the third round. You’ve just got to keep getting up there and trying to keep turning it over to try and find that right combination and that right quarterback for your franchise."
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman disputed speculation that Minnesota bluffed the Cleveland Browns out of three draft picks in the first round.

Believing there was at least one other team interested in leapfrogging them for Trent Richardson, the Browns traded picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds to move up one spot to No. 3 for the Alabama running back. There have been questions whether there was another team involved.

Did the Vikings dupe the Browns?

"We did have offers on the table, I can tell you that," Spielman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I'm not going to tell you who or what. But I will say Cleveland did the right thing."

Hensley's slant: The Browns absolutely did the right thing. If they believed there was a chance that they could lose Richardson, they had to make that deal. Cleveland got beat out for quarterback Robert Griffin III last month. The Browns couldn't risk losing out on another elite playmaker.

BENGALS: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said he will play much better this season after having his ankle surgically repaired in January. He severely sprained it while leaping for a pass in practice on Oct. 13. Maualuga missed the next three games and wasn't the same when he returned. "I started out pretty good and then being off four weeks, including the bye, I don't want to make excuses, but it made me scared," Maualuga told the team's official website. "Are these guys going to try and chop block me? Are they going to try and take my legs out? I was in a fetal position so they don’t get to my ankles. It's like I was playing scared." Hensley's slant: The Bengals need a healthy and aggressive Maualuga in the middle of the defense. You could see the Bengals' run defense decline when Maualuga wasn't at full strength.

RAVENS: Left tackle Bryant McKinnie has been participating in some of the team's voluntary offseason conditioning workouts, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. "We're in contact with him," Cameron said. "He's been in and out of town. I haven't seen him a lot. All things are positive. We're going to get him back and ready to go. It will be nice to have him this offseason. We'll get him for 10 organized team activities and three days of minicamp. Those are the most important things." Hensley's slant: McKinnie is living up to the agreement that he'll be in better shape after finishing the season at 360 pounds. That was the reason the Ravens paid him a $500,000 roster bonus in March. But the team can't be thrilled with the fact that McKinnie is only attending "some" of the workouts.

STEELERS: Chris Rainey is being reunited with Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey after Pittsburgh drafted the Florida running back in the fifth round. Rainey, who was born when his mother was locked up in a Florida jail, lived with Pouncey and his family in high school. "He's a good guy, he has a great heart," Florida running backs coach Brian White told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I think it's great Maurkice will be up there with him, showing him what it takes to be a pro." Hensley's slant: Rainey slipped in the draft because of character concerns. As long as Rainey stays out of trouble -- and Pouncey should help in this area -- he will add a spark to the Steelers' offense and special teams. He's an electric playmaker.