Reggie Bush: Mike O'Hara explores what he could bring to the Detroit Lions' offense

Posted Mar 11, 2013

Would Reggie Bush be a legitimate factor if he signed with the Detroit Lions?

In this year's free agent talent pool, Reggie Bush is either the Lions' oasis in the desert or a mirage.

Bush can either fill their need for a playmaking running back, or his resume and potential impact are inflated by dreams of what he might be, not what he really is.

I came out long ago in favor of the Lions' pursuing Bush in free agency. Like a lot of fevers and hot romances, my fervor has cooled – a little – with more reflection. But there is still enough infatuation with the prospect of Bush and Calvin Johnson in a run-pass combination that will open creases in defenses and create opportunities for each other and their teammates.

With the free agent-signing period beginning at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, this week's Monday Countdown focuses on what Reggie Bush could bring to the Lions. There is a look at what Bush brought to the Dolphins based on an exchange I had over the weekend with a member of the Dolphins' front office who had close exposure to Bush in his two seasons in Miami. What I was told surprised me.

There is also a review of what the greatest receiver-running back combination in franchise history meant to the Lions, one man's opinion about the impact of Lions' players recruiting Bush, and, finally, what I would do about Bush if I were making the call.

We start with the most important quality a back can bring to the Lions' offense:

Jahvid Best1. Jahvid Best factor: Best's name has to be brought up in every analysis of what the Lions need in a running back. His career is likely over because of a concussion sustained in Game 6 of the 2011 season. He has not played since.

Do not judge what Best's presence - and his absence - meant to the offense.

In two seasons with the Lions, Best played 22 games, with 15 starts. In those 22 games, Best carried 255 times for 945 yards and had 85 catches for 774 yards. He scored nine touchdowns – six rushing, three receiving.

None of those numbers stand out; not the total carries, yards gained, receptions or touchdowns.

Best didn't give the offense volume. He gave it something more important. Every time the offense broke the huddle, Best was a threat to rip the top off the opposing defense. I guarantee that linebackers took a deep breath every time they saw Best line up.

His signature play came in a Monday night game against the Bears in 2011. He ran 88 yards up the middle for a touchdown. He was gone the moment he exploded through the hole. Also in that season, Best had receptions that gained 35, 60, 24 and 32 yards.

As a rookie in 2010, Best had TD receptions that covered 53 and 75 yards.

Again, it wasn't volume of carries, catches and yards gained that made Best such a threat. It was plays – the potential of breaking a big gain on every play.

2. Running void: In 2012, the Lions had four runs of 20 yards or longer, tying them with the Chargers for fewest in the league. And the Lions had 22 more carries than the Chargers. Mikel LeShoure, the starting tailback most of the season, had a long run of 16 yards on 215 carries.

3. Reggie Bush: His stats the last two seasons in Miami were good but not spectacular – 966 yards rushing in 2012, 1,086 in 2011. In two seasons combined, he had 78 catches for 588 yards. He scored 15 touchdowns, 12 rushing and three on receptions.

He averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2011 and 4.3 in 2011. In both seasons, he outperformed his team's average. The Dolphins averaged 4.2 yards in 2011 and 4.1 in 2012.

Bush had seven runs of 20-plus yards in 2011 and six in 2012. He had TD runs of 76 and 28 yards in 2011 and a 65-yard TD run in 2012.

Judging Bush by the same standard used with Best, it's playmaking that counts, not volume.

4. The knock: In its performance-based ratings, Pro Football Focus ranked Bush ninth among overvalued backs. Simply put, the rating system is based on a number of factors relative to a player's salary-cap number. Bush was downgraded for his pass-blocking.

A running back cannot let his quarterback get killed. I get it. But no team is signing Bush for his blocking, or his ability to run between the tackles. You're signing a playmaker.

5. Signability: Nobody can make Reggie Bush sign with the Lions, and money obviously will play a major role in where he signs. Bush played two seasons in Miami on a contract that paid him $9.777 million – including a signing bonus of $2.5 million - or just under $5 million per season. His base salary in 2012 was $4 million.

I doubt if Bush will get $5 million a year from any team. It could be more than $3 million a year.

The Lions aren't flush with salary-cap room. Signing Bush might require creative negotiating – such as adding a year to the contract to spread out the cap-hit of the signing bonus.

6. Player recruiting: Nate Burleson, a respected team leader, said on the NFL Network that he wants the Lions to sign Bush. Matthew Stafford reportedly started following Bush on Twitter.

Bush has more than 2.7 million followers on his Twitter account.

I doubt if any team makes personnel decisions based solely on the sentiment of its players, but if key offensive players want a player signed, their sentiment cannot be ignored.

7. Age, wear and tear: Bush turned 28 on March 2. He has played seven pro seasons, but he shouldn't be burned out by his workload. He has 967 career carries, and 443 in the last two seasons. That's a light load for a back.

By comparison, Steven Jackson of the Rams is another prominent free agent back.

Jackson has had a terrific career in nine seasons with the Rams, but he turns 30 in July and has 2,395 career carries, including 517 the last two years.

The person I contacted in Miami said this of Bush: "He's definitely got something left in the tank."

8. The Bush persona: No doubt, he still has star quality dating to his days at Southern Cal when he won the 2005 Heisman Trophy. But away from the spotlight, he's a football player.

In Miami, I was told he was a good presence in the locker room and is a hard worker who spent 25-30 minutes on the field after practice every day, from training camp in August through the end of the season.

9. Lions' receiver-runner history: The Lions have experienced firsthand what an impact wide receiver and running back can mean. It puts defenses in a bind.

From 1994-97, Herman Moore and Barry Sanders were the most prolific pair of teammates in NFL history. That includes such tandems as Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas and Andre Reid.

Obviously, Sanders is a Hall of Fame runner and an all-time great. Rumpelstiltskin could have caught passes with Sanders in the backfield, but the production of Moore and Sanders together is amazing.

In that four-year span of 1994-97, Moore led the NFL in receiving twice and finished second once. He set the NFL one-season record with 123 catches in 1995. He was first-team All-Pro three times, made the Pro Bowl all four years, and was the first receiver to catch 100 or more passes in three straight seasons.

Also in those four seasons, Sanders won three rushing titles, with highs of 2,053 yards in 1997 and 1,883 in 1994. The Lions made the playoffs three of the four seasons with Scott Mitchell at quarterback. Mitchell was more serviceable than his critics claim, but Stafford would be better than Mitchell if he threw left-handed. Make that sidearm, left-handed.

Calvin Johnson is on track for a Hall of Fame career. He set the NFL one-season record last year with 1,964 years. He has surpassed Moore as the Lions' best receiver of all time. If he's not comparable to Sanders in stature, he's close.

Reggie Bush is not in the class of Barry Sanders. He won't break a game open by himself the way Barry did.

But Bush has big-play capability. With him in the backfield near the goal line, I doubt if teams ever again will double-team Johnson as if they were blocking a gunner on the punt team.

10. Bottom line: The Lions need a playmaking runner. Bush is young enough and still talented enough to help a team for two or three seasons.

Within reason – and it's not my bank account – I'd sign Reggie Bush.