2012 NFL Free Agency: Cincinnati Bengals to Target RB Michael Bush?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 3, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 10:  Running back Michael Bush #29 of the Oakland Raiders carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on November 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When the Oakland Raiders placed their franchise tag on safety Tyvon Branch Friday, it likely opened the path for free-agent running back Michael Bush to get to the open market.

When you crunch the numbers, the Raiders simply do not have the maneuverability within their salary cap to re-sign Bush without the use of the tag.

Once Bush officially makes it to free agency, which opens on March 13, he might get some serious interest from a number of teams. The Cincinnati Bengals are likely to be one of them.

Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Joe Reedy connected the dots once news broke of Branch getting the franchise tag.

There are obvious reasons why the Bengals would pursue a power back like Bush.  

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to continue a power running game next season despite the likely departure of aging running back Cedric Benson, who is also a free agent this offseason. After a so-so season, Benson is widely assumed to be playing elsewhere in 2012.

Gruden also wants more of a running-back-by-committee approach, which could either help or hamper getting Bush in Cincinnati.

On one hand, Bush wants to be a No. 1 back after years of playing second fiddle in Oakland. But he's also better suited to getting his share of rest, as the Raiders ran him into the ground and he became less and less effective toward the end of the season.

There's also the obvious connection between Bush and former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, who is now an offensive assistant with the Bengals.

Used in a starting role once Darren McFadden went down with a foot injury, Bush ran for 977 yards and seven touchdowns in nine official starts during 2011. In four years as a Raiders backup, Bush has 2,642 yards and 21 touchdowns. Bush also caught 91 passes for 879 yards in Oakland.

Teamed with Bernard Scott in the backfield next season, Bush could provide Cincinnati with a more diverse and effective running back duo. In the end, the Bengals will have to decide whether they want to spend some money on Bush in free agency or wait until the 2012 NFL draft, where they could have the option of taking one of the top two or three backs available.