2012 NFL Free Agents: Possible Destinations for RB Michael Bush
When the Oakland Raiders placed the franchise tag on strong safety Tyvon Branch, two things became clear.
First, Branch would remain with the Raiders for the 2012 season at a price of over $6 million. Second, free-agent running back Michael Bush's return next season was in serious doubt.
This is a telling sign for the Raiders.
Bush was an invaluable backup, who provided exceptional relief for starter Darren McFadden over the past four seasons.
In fact, since 2008, the year that both players were drafted by Oakland, Bush has played in more games at running back (61 to 45). With McFadden’s durability in question throughout his career, the Raiders could have opted to keep Bush as a safety net in case McFadden’s health wasn an issue again next season.
Instead, Oakland decided that the defensive side of the ball needed the most work—the most attention—this offseason.
Franchising Branch ensures that the 27th ranked defense from a season ago keeps its leader in tackles. It's an effort by Oakland to solidify some continuity after having already released another member of the secondary, Stanford Routt, earlier last month.
Clearly, the Raiders' focus so far this offseason has been their defensive personnel.
With that said, where does Bush go from here?
Let’s take a look at some possible destinations for Bush in 2012.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Michael Bush could follow the lead of recently-departed Stanford Routt, who, after being released by Oakland last February, found refuge with the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs.
Does Kansas City need to improve their running game? Well, the Chiefs scored an anemic five rushing touchdowns in 2011. Five. Bush scored seven all by himself.
The Chiefs would be a viable destination for Bush, as they look to improve their lethargic ground game.
Obviously, Charles’ absence greatly affected the Chiefs’ running attack.
Jackie Battle led the team with just under 600 yards rushing. Thomas Jones started eight games for Kansas City, finishing short of 500 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Dexter McCluster also split time at running back—he gained 516 yards rushing for the season.
It could have been worse—at least these three running backs provided something.
Unfortunately, they could not generate any consistency, finishing 28th in the league in yards per carry. Bush would give the Chiefs some stability until Charles is able to return to full strength.
Kansas City is well below the salary cap, so bringing Bush in at his asking price wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Plus, Bush can provide ample versatility in the rushing attack.
He is great at running vertically, between tackles and would be a nice addition in the red zone during goal-line situations—a scenario the Chiefs faltered in tremendously with their more fleet-footed, east-west running backs last season.
Kansas City might not be the most ideal situation, given that the former Pro Bowler is already in tow.
But, as Bush has proved over the years, he is a great insurance policy if Charles' return to the football field is delayed
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Another team that could show interest in Michael Bush is the Denver Broncos.
On paper, this is somewhat surprising, given that Denver finished 2011 with the sixth-ranked running attack. However, as we all know, a solid number of that yardage was gained by the Broncos’ rookie quarterback Tim Tebow.
Denver’s starting running back last year was Willis McGahee, and he provided a turn-back-the-clock performance in 2011, rushing for nearly 1,200 yards on nearly 250 attempts. Pretty remarkable, considering he only started 11 games over his previous three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
McGahee rushed for the most yards since his 2008 campaign. Darn amazing.
Then why would Denver go after Bush?
McGahee turned 30 years old last season, and everybody knows that the treads on the tires of a 30-year-old running back are considerably thin.
There’s no reason to suggest McGahee's production would drop significantly in 2012, but the Broncos would be wise to find some relief for him. Adding Bush would give Denver’s offense a one-two punch at running back— a popular trend in football when dealing with older players.
Why wouldn’t the Broncos want to take Bush away from the division-rival Raiders?
San Diego Chargers
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Interestingly, Bill Williamson of ESPN.com believes that all AFC West rivals might be interested in Michael Bush—including the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers already have slasher Ryan Mathews leading the way, but Tolbert provided the ground-and-pound running style between the tackles. Bush would obviously fill that role nicely. Plus, his pass-catching ability would be vital on check-downs or third-down pass plays.
The problem with going to the Chargers is that Bush, again, would serve as a backup.
This might be an issue for Bush, who has shown over the past few seasons that he is capable of being the No. 1 running back for a team.
On the other hand, Bush did wear down toward the end of last season, and it might suit him to sign with a team that wants a two-headed running attack—particularly opportunities at the goal line (as evidenced by Tolbert’s eight rushing touchdowns in 2011).
Bush might not relish the chance at backing up Mathews, but he could do worse than signing on with San Diego.
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
If there’s a team that fits Michael Bush’s physical running style, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have traditionally employed a bruising, between-the-tackles running game and Bush fits that mold.
Last season was a difficult one for the Steelers’ running game.
Thus, Pittsburgh is in dire need of a running back.
Isaac Redman is the backup, but he only has a couple seasons of NFL experience, including 162 career rushing attempts. Would the Steelers give Redman the keys to the running game? Would they be confident in relying on him as the team’s full-time starter?
It’s not impossible, but also not likely. At least not without a supporting backup or backfield partner.
Adding Bush would give the Steelers a balanced, lethal slash-and-dash ground attack, with Bush providing the brunt of the hard-nosed, north-south running. Bush’s starting experience would be welcomed, especially when considering Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes.
Having Bush’s veteran leadership in the backfield would benefit the Steelers and their chances of keeping up with the stacked AFC North.
Whitney Curtis/Getty Images
With starter Cedric Benson likely to hit the free agent market, the Cincinnati Bengals would need to find a running back.
But the 29-year-old looks to be on his way out of Cincinnati, and it would behoove the Bengals to consider Bush as a replacement.
Bernard Scott is currently the next in line for Cincinnati, but he has started only three games throughout his three-year career. In that time, he has 247 carries—last season alone, Bush rushed 249 times.
If the Bengals are looking for an experienced veteran, Bush is their man.
His play-making ability in both the running and passing games would help quarterback Andy Dalton tremendously. Plus, the offense would need very little time to gel, as Bush’s running style is similar to that of Benson’s.
Bush would certainly appreciate the opportunity to vie for a starting spot. The only issue would be his asking price.
But that really won’t be a problem, as Cincinnati has a boatload of cap space heading into 2012 (reportedly close to $60 million, according to nfltraderumors.co).
With that said, expect Cincinnati to make a big push for Michael Bush—it seems like a perfect fit for both.
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Another AFC North team that could compete for the services of Michael Bush is the Cleveland Browns.
Last season, the Browns were mired in the underwhelming production of Peyton Hillis, who missed several games due to injuries. As a result, Hillis rushed for 587 yards—half as many as he did in 2010.
The Madden curse strikes again!
This makes Hillis' future in Cleveland quite uncertain. He is due to become an unrestricted free agent, but it’s likely that the Browns will not match any offer and part ways with Hillis.
Unfortunately, without Hillis, the Browns are left with not much more at the running back position.
Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya provided mediocre numbers last year, and neither are expected to become the full-time starter in 2012.
Enter Michael Bush.
With nearly $25 million of cap space, why not attempt to make Bush the starting running back in Cleveland? He is also of the same mold as Hillis in terms of running style.
If anything, the 4-12 Browns might be able to compete in the AFC North—their 28th-ranked rushing offense would be improved with Bush.
Cleveland should make an offer to Bush this offseason. If they don’t at least try to sign him, then what message does that send Browns' fans heading into the 2012 season?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Though it's incredibly unlikely, it’s not exactly impossible, either.
Of course, it all depends on the attitude and visions of both parties, management and Michael Bush, agreeing on what his role would be in the Oakland offense.
But, with the franchising of Tyvon Branch, it would take a long shot for the Raiders to keep Bush in Oakland. Why would Bush want to stay and be the backup for another season? Why would he want to remain in Oakland if he could potentially start somewhere else?
Never mind the fact that the Raiders are reportedly $11 million over the salary cap. How would they be able to afford Bush? And McFadden?
Talk about an expensive backfield.
However, the Raiders must evaluate whether McFadden is indeed healthy enough to be their go-to guy for next season and beyond. Though he has shown flashes of brilliance on the field, McFadden hasn’t been healthy enough to help the team for an entire season.
Maybe the Raiders would be better of with Bush, not McFadden, as the full-time running back going forward?
The Raiders are under new management and a new coaching staff, led by Dennis Allen, so it’s uncertain which direction they intend to go moving forward.
Should they hang onto Bush as the most expensive backup in the league? It's one of the many questions Oakland will have to answer before the season starts.
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