2018 NFL Free Agents: Rumors, Predictions on Le'Veon Bell, Kirk Cousins and More

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2018

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Denis Poroy/Associated Press

With the way Case Keenum helped the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs this year, it's only natural there is major buzz around a few potential names ready to hit the market in the 2018 NFL free-agent class. 

Oh, and there's a guy named Le'Veon Bell. 

So yes, this year's trip to free agency should be entertaining, in a word. Teams are already spending more than usual because of the rising cap, and free-agent gambles are clearly starting to work based on the appearance of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs. 

Hype for free agency is understandable, so let's take a look at a handful of the biggest rumors making the rounds.  

          

Alex Smith 

With the splash Keenum made in Minnesota, buzz around Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs is understandable. 

Smith is, after all, coming off a season in which he completed 67.5 percent of his passes with 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns against five interceptions over 15 games. He's efficient and excels in the right offense, which a new team would be sure to implement if deciding to invest assets into his acquisition. 

Granted, Smith isn't technically a free agent this offseason, but he might as well be with the way the Chiefs clearly want to move on to 2017 first-round rookie Patrick Mahomes—and according to Spotrac, the team built an out into his contract this offseason. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, citing sources, the Chiefs wouldn't mind a deal: "Kansas City won't actively seek out trade partners, but they will listen. There is a real chance Smith, who's set to make $17 million next season, will be dealt for the second time in his career."

But the Chiefs are stuck in this weird position now where the rest of the league knows they likely want to get rid of Smith, both because of his huge cap hit and because of the high-upside prospect he's blocking from playing time. Rather than cough up assets, teams are more likely to wait and see if the Chiefs cut Smith. 

Which they will. He's 33 years old and has plenty to offer the right team, but the relationship with the Chiefs that started back in 2013 has run its course. It's going to take a team with a penchant for opening up the checkbook to outbid the rest of the league, so look for a franchise like the Miami Dolphins to swoop in with a huge contract, effectively giving Ryan Tannehill competition and ending the Jay Cutler experiment. 

Prediction: Smith signs with the Dolphins 

          

Kirk Cousins

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

The Kirk Cousins rumor mill never stops. 

As the biggest name on the potential market this year, because it's unlikely the Washington Redskins will tag him for the third year in a row, Cousins is the hottest name around because he also closely resembles something of a franchise quarterback. 

We've heard about how the Denver Broncos would love to throw a huge offer at Cousins, according to Eric Galko of Sporting News. We've also heard Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's desire to have this saga end one way or the other as opposed to another one-year deal, according to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post.

But how's this for a new development? According to Kyle Kelly of The Browns Wire, MMQB's Albert Breer went on 92.3 The Fan and suggested Cousins would "seriously consider" signing with the Cleveland Browns. 

Talk about an unexpected development. The Browns are once again the most quarterback-needy team in the NFL a year removed from watching as DeShone Kizer completed 53.6 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. 

A quarterback like Cousins, though, a year removed from 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions of his own, likely wouldn't mind playing under an offensive mind such as Browns head coach Hue Jackson, not to mention alongside wideouts such as Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman. 

Still, it's hard to wrap the mind around the idea a rebuilding team like the Browns will throw a monster contract at a quarterback who turns 30 years old in August. The front office has droves of draft assets to throw at the position, and sinking all that money into Cousins as a win-now move doesn't make sense given the surefire years of rebuilding still in front of the franchise. 

More than anything, Cousins re-upping with the Redskins makes the most sense. He's familiar there, the offense is built around him and Washington knows what he can do when the supporting cast is strong, so breaking open the checkbook for him one more time instead of facing the unknown won't be a hard decision. 

Prediction: Cousins re-signs with the Redskins

       

Le'Veon Bell

We don't hear much about Bell because it seems obvious the Pittsburgh Steelers will cough up whatever it takes to keep him in town and keep the championship window open. 

Or not. 

According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, Bell told the Steelers he's willing to sit out a season or retire if he gets another franchise tag. 

Bell was quick to fire back against the chatter on Twitter: 

The problem with Bell's apparent threat is it's simply hard to believe—according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, another franchise tag would come in around $14.54 million. It's simply hard to see any player passing up that sort of cash. 

Rewind to last year, where Bell pulled off a similar song and dance before putting ink to paper on the franchise tag in early September. He missed most of the offseason, yet he had his healthiest season since 2014 by playing in 15 games, rushing for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns and averaging four yards per carry. 

Make no mistake, teams would break open record-breaking contracts for Bell if he somehow hit the open market. He and his representatives know this, hence the apparent threats. But the Steelers aren't the team that breaks under these sorts of circumstances—ever.

Bell will get tagged again if the two sides can't come to a long-term agreement, and he'll yet again have to put ink to paper rather than losing millions in free agency when he actually hits the market because he sat out an entire year. 

Prediction: Bell re-signs with the Steelers

           

Stats courtesy of NFL.com.

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