As NFL Free Agency slowly creeps upon us, I'd like to go back and do a quick review on one player whose value seems to be gaining steam over the last several weeks: Reggie Bush.
When Bush was drafted out of USC by the Saints in 2006, many compared him to be the next Barry Sanders. With his skill set as a rusher and possessing excellent hands out of the backfield, Bush came out of college as one of the most hyped-up running backs in years.
His time with the Saints was good, but not as good as the team had hoped. While he generally had strong receiving numbers and was one of the most dynamic punt returners in the game, Bush just couldn't get it together as a pure rushing running back. Through 5 seasons in New Orleans, Bush managed just a little over 400 total rushing yards per season. While I wouldn't consider him a true bust, he definitely did not live up to his pre-draft hype.
In July of 2011, the Saints had seen all they needed to see from Bush and opted to trade him to the Dolphins for backup safety Jonathon Amaya and a swap of 6th round draft picks. While many figured Bush would ride into the sunset and eventually fall out of favor in Miami, he enjoyed a rebirth. In that year, he had career highs in carries (219) and rushing yards (1086). While also checking in with a very strong 5.0 yards-per-carry average. While Bush couldn't top those numbers in 2012, he still managed to put up more carries (219) and yards (960) than he ever did in New Orleans. The writing was on the wall for a possible contract extension that would have kept Bush in Miami for at least a couple more seasons.
Fast forward to this offseason and it appears that the Dolphins and Bush will part ways. The Dolphins have 2nd-year Lamar Miller waiting for his chance to shine and have also been linked to Rashard Mendenhall as an upgrade over true bust Daniel Thomas. An amicable split would be the right thing for both sides, even if Bush's time in Miami was shorter than expected.
As rumors start to heat up with only one day until NFL Free Agency officially opens, Bush has been linked to both the Lions and the Cardinals. I am sure there are a couple other teams who wouldn't mind Bush in their backfield, but these are the two organizations who have been popping up the most in the media.
Detroit Lions: In 2012, the Lions failed to replace the speed that Jahvid Best (concussions) had previously brought to the offense in the two years he was able to play. Instead, Detroit started relying mainly on Joique Bell as the change-of-pace back behind starter Mikel Leshoure. While Bell looked great at times last year, Bush would be an automatic upgrade for a team that has been desperately seeking a consistent pass catcher to add to Matthew Stafford's arsenal. Bush could easily fit right in. Not only do I see Bush as another receiving option, but he could push Leshoure for time as a rusher. Even though Bush's 2012 numbers disappointed, he still came ever so close to the second 1000-yard season of his career.
Arizona Cardinals: This one is somewhat puzzling. The team's offensive line woes will have to be addressed first if they want any chance to get something going on the ground. In 2012, the Cardinals ranked dead last in both yards-per-carry average with 3.4 and total rushing yards per game with 75.2. No running back is going to have success if the team can't shore up that line. For now, incumbent starter Beanie Wells' future is in the air. He adds nothing to the passing game and his running has been spotty. New head coach Bruce Arians doesn't believe in a committee backfield, so the team's website feels Ryan Williams, for now, has an early lock on playing time. But after missing the entire 2011 season and most of 2012 with injuries, the Cardinals shouldn't rely on someone who clearly has an injury tag stamped on his back. How Bush would fit in this offense is anyone's guess. If Arians stays committed to his no RBBC policy, will the team view Bush as an every-down back? Or perhaps Arians will go against his word and use a tandem of both Wells and Bush or Williams and Bush, while concentrating on linemen in free agency and the draft.
Ray currently has Bush ranked as his No. 3 free agent running back behind Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw. But if reports continue to pour in and more teams begin to show interest in Bush's services, he could wind up as the consolation prize for those teams who miss out on Jackson.