2012 NFL Free Agents: Talk of Michael Bush to Bengals Picking Up Steam

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 2, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24:  Running back Michael Bush #29 of the Oakland Raiders rushes up field against the Kansas City Chiefs during overtime on December 24, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  Oakland defeated Kansas City 16-13 in overtime.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders are reportedly applying their 2012 franchise tag to strong safety Tyvon Branch. While that will help the Silver and Black retain one of their core defenders, it also all but ensures that running back Michael Bush will be allowed to hit the open market when free agency opens on March 13.

Ever since rumors began to circle that Bush may be headed out of Oakland, the Cincinnati Bengals have generated the most buzz among potential destinations for the four-year veteran.

The Bengals have money to burn this offseason, as the team is reported to be over $40 million under the 2012 salary cap. What's more, the team would appear to be in the market for an upgrade at the running back position. Indeed, while starter Cedric Benson topped 1,000 rushing yards for the third time in four seasons in the Queen City, he also failed to gain four yards per carry for the third time in that stretch.

In fact, while head coach Marvin Lewis praised Benson in a recent interview with the Austin Chronicle, he also made no guarantee that the impending free agent would be back with the Bengals in 2012. In fact, Lewis made it clear that the team intends to get better in the backfield.

We are looking to upgrade the running back position. Ced has been a great player for us. He’s a big body, great player, and obviously he has been a big part of what we have been able to do in previous seasons.

Enter the 6'1" 245-pound Bush, who is likely the top ballcarrier available that may actually hit free agency (sorry, folks, Ray Rice and Matt Forte aren't going anywhere) after gaining nearly 1,400 total yards last season.

As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy tweeted, many fans and media types are already firing up the welcome wagon for Bush in southern Ohio.

Michael Bush, Come on down? RT: @JasonLaCanfora: Raiders have informed S Tyvon Branch he will be franchised. #insideslant

— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) March 1, 2012

Bush, like Benson, is something of a grinder. As his rather pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry a year ago showed, he seemed to wear down somewhat under an increased workload. Should the Bengals indeed procure his services, it would probably be in their best interests to have a "change of pace" back on the roster as well. Whether it's Bernard Scott or another player, with nine picks in this April's NFL draft, the Bengals should be able to accomplish that goal fairly easily.

The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the surprise teams in the National Football League last year in making the playoffs under rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. However, if the team want to take the nearly unheard of step (for them, at least) of being successful for two seasons in a row, they need to bolster their rushing attack.

Signing Michael Bush in free agency would likely be a step in the right direction in that regard.