Odds are that when the 2011 NFL season finally kicks off, Darren McFadden will assume the role of first string halfback in Hue Jackson’s offense. However, don’t expect Michael Bush to just lie down and let him have the job. Bush has been very impressive in his own right and the two backs complement each other very well. They are also training camp roommates and good friends. But when it’s time to determine who's going to get the first play from scrimmage in 2011, the battle will be on. How about a friendly wager, boys?
Last season, when McFadden was healthy, Michael Bush didn't get a lot of opportunities. Even in games when McFadden was struggling, the Raider offense was more likely to pass than play Bush over McFadden. This is something that I just don’t understand.
Before Bush broke his leg in his senior season at Louisville he was in line to be selected in the top 15-20 players of the 2007 draft. Instead, as fate would have it, he ended up the first pick of the fourth round. It was an injury that ended up costing Bush millions, but it turned out great for the Raiders.
That said, Bush has a lot to prove and I don’t expect him to take this back-up role lightly. Right now, he is looking at a first and third round tender restricted free agent contract. That contract will pay Michael Bush approximately $3.5 million in 2011, while his teammate and good friend, McFadden, pulls in closer to $10 million. This will be the first year of his career that Bush has made over $1 million after signing a 4-year rookie contract for $2,165,000. So he is about $30 million behind McFadden (6-year, $60 million), who was drafted a year later than him and has played in significantly less games.
I’m not suggesting that it’s all about money for Bush, although I’m sure he’ll welcome the $3 million raise this year. Nevertheless, it's going to be a contract year for Bush, and the Raiders won’t be able to restrict him in 2012. There is going to be an open market on Bush and you can bet that he is going to do everything in his power this year to prove himself worthy of another raise next year. On top of that, you can bet that Al Davis is going to want to get his money’s worth out of Bush this year, especially if there is a chance that he won’t be around next season.
So what’s the difference in $30 million dollars? Well, McFadden has seven career 100-plus yard games under his belt and Bush has five. McFadden has 350 more rushing yards than Bush, but a ton of that came last season when McFadden got 223 handoffs and Bush was given 158. Bush has outscored McFadden on the ground, 14 touchdowns to 12 and he is blowing him out of the water in receptions. That, however, is really only because of DMC’s 47 catches in 2010. Like I said, McFadden had significantly more playing time despite the fact that Bush played in one more game than McFadden last season.
This brings up the question, what is it that the Raiders really want from Michael Bush? Do they want a guy who can just fill in when McFadden can’t play? That’s what it looked like last season. They could develop this into a deadly combination if they play their cards right. I think they should be on the field a lot more together. It’s almost reminiscent of the Bo Jackson/Marcus Allen situation back in the day, though Bush appears to be less jealous and more friendly with McFadden than Allen was with Jackson. A lot of that could have stemmed from Allen putting in all the offseason work while Jackson was busy playing baseball. Ultimately, Al Davis basically kicked Allen off the team and he went and played for the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
This relationship should not end as dismally for Davis and his Raiders though. If the Raiders did end up losing Bush, I can’t see him signing with a team that plays them twice a year just out of spite. Ultimately, I can’t see the Raiders allowing him to leave at all. Think about what wins championships in this league: good defense and a sound rushing attack.
That’s what gets it done for the Steelers consistently. That’s what all the great teams have. It’s most likely why Peyton Manning doesn’t have more rings. It’s why the Giants' combination of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward and that defense helped them defeat the previously undefeated New England Patriots a few years ago. The biggest difference is that most of those teams don’t have to pay two halfbacks starting money. But that may be exactly what Al Davis has to do if he wants another ring. The combination of McFadden, Bush, and almost anybody on the planet could be far better than the Giants' earth, wind, and fire of a few years ago.
Like Al Davis said this spring, “Nobody wants to tackle Bush in the fourth quarter.” But heck, I wouldn’t want to tackle him in the first quarter, let alone the fourth.
If Michael Bush is smart, he will stay and share carries with McFadden. That will help him and McFadden both prolong their careers. However, if the Raiders continue to choose McFadden over him, he could get an itchy trigger finger and decide he wants to be the man somewhere that isn’t Oakland. I read somewhere the other day that somebody had said nobody will pay Bush because he is not a first-string caliber halfback. But I think that is totally bogus. Somebody will pay this guy – let’s just hope it continues to be Al Davis.
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