The market for the 29-year-old running back, and the potential interest of the New England Patriots, came to the forefront when the Detroit Lions announced the release of Reggie Bush on Wednesday evening.
Bush’s availability comes less than two weeks before New England’s backfield is slated two have two names, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, available on the unrestricted free-agent market. And, should discussions with the latter two not end in an agreement, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft could be a candidate to reach one.
The former USC Trojan and New Orleans Saint enjoyed a career resurgence in 2011, when he joined the Miami Dolphins. It was there that Bush spent one season under current Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and then-offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who is now tight ends coach for New England.
Bush rushed for a career-high 1,086 yards for Miami that campaign, adding 43 catches for 296 yards and seven total touchdowns while working with a pair of familiar faces. But both familiar faces, as well Bush, have gone their separate ways since then, putting the possible connection back on the shelf for the time being.
It could very well stay there.
Bush joined the Lions in 2013 and netted his second career 1,000-yard rushing season, his second career season over 500 receiving yards, along with seven scores. Yet in 2014, the 6-foot, 205-pound back was limited to less than 300 yards in both categories. He battled ankle and back injuries over the course of 11 games, all while Joique Bell and Theo Riddick battled through the carousel alongside him.
In result, Bush now finds himself a free agent. Set to turn 30 in March, the veteran had two years remaining on his four-year, $16 million pact with Detroit, which included a cap number of $5.27 million for next season and $3.55 million in dead money. That type of price tag is not one the Patriots would be expected to entertain for a rusher who has played only one full 16-game season since 2007.
But when on the field, Bush’s impact is still felt with as little as one snap; one carry off the tackle, one catch upfield from the flat.
A more affordable price tag could certainly shift the interest level of an organization like New England. Odds are, a more affordable price tag will be the going rate for a player entering the advanced years of his career as well.
Bush remains a natural receiver and a sudden single-back carrier into the open field. Just how long he will remain those things is something to take into account when appraising his value in an offense, however. The thought here is that retaining similar player in the 25-year-old Vereen would be a better use of funds with the long-term design in mind.
But it could be close in deciding for the immediate.
Vereen, once a 2011 Patriots second-round pick, earned just shy of $747,000 in base salary and accounted for a cap hit of $1.1 million during the final year of his rookie deal in 2014. It is expected he’ll earn somewhere in the ballpark of $4 or $5 million wherever he lands in 2015, but there is something to be said for keeping a young, multidimensional commodity in an offense built for multiple dimensions at the right price.
Under head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, behind quarterback Tom Brady and out wide next to tight end Rob Gronkowski, it’s safe to say Vereen motioned into a role that was his own.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound California product evidenced it with each of his 11 catches against the Seattle Seahawks – a Super Bowl record for the position – earlier this month. He did so, in fairness, following his first full 16-game season with the team. But he did so.
Whether or not he’ll get to do so in the same uniform next season remains to be seen. The inbound competition arriving as early as April 30 also remains to be seen.
With the NFL draft standing only two months away, the Patriots could venture in several directions to acquire at a position abound. And, perhaps not far from the plan with Vereen and Ridley four years ago, selecting a running back – or two – around Day 2 is an idea that will continue to be pondered until it is known.
But both Bush and Vereen will have their selections known by then.