Michael Bush #29 and Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders celebrate after Bush scored on a touchdown on a one yard run against the New York Jets September 25, 2011
Raiders running back Michael Bush has been one of the most dependable options in the Raiders' offense the past few seasons. While Darren McFadden has never played en entire season and has only had one good season with the team, Bush has always been there to step up and carry the load. Now Bush will very likely make more money in 2012 than his backfield mate.
Bush is set to hit free agency if the Raiders don't give him a new contract or nail him down with a franchise tag. Should the team go that route, Bush will earn $7.7 million in 2012 as the average of the top five running backs in the league. The fifth highest paid back in the league is McFadden who is set to earn $5.6 million.
This option seems like a long shot by some who can't see the Raiders paying the "back up" running back more than the starter. Even though last season this supposed backup had more starts than the oft injured incumbent starter. Bush just missed rushing for 1000 yards last season in relief of McFadden when he went down with a Liz Frank foot injury in week seven.
For the sake of McFadden's inability to stay healthy, holding onto Bush as long as possible would be a good idea. Even if it means he earns more next season than McFadden. There is no telling how this would sit with DMac but he needs to understand this is a business and the Raiders must protect their interests.
If Bush does not receive the franchise tag, there is a very good chance he will opt to test out the market. On the open market, he will be a hot commodity. He will garner interest from teams looking to make him a starter and pay him as such. Most other high profile backs whose contracts are up, such as Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and Matt Forte, will not hit the market as their teams will most certainly lock them down long term or tag them.
With slim picking in the running back market, Bush would have multiple suitors offering him good money to be their primary back.
Last offseason, the top running backs set to become unrestricted free agents were DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Darren Sproles. Of them, Williams broke the bank with a 5 year, $43 million deal with $21 million guaranteed. Bradshaw and Sproles both signed 4 year deals at around $4 million per season. Both Williams and Sproles are among the top ten highest paid running backs in the NFL this upcoming season.
Sitting at sixth on that list is Michael Turner. I mention him as well because, like Bush and Sproles, he was a backup for a high profile player. He finally got his chance to be a feature back and took it and was rewarded with a 6 year, $34.5 million contract from the Falcons in 2008.
So, it is conceivable that Bush out-earns McFadden this coming season either in base salary or in salary plus a signing bonus. But at very least, he will join him among the top paid backs in the league.
The question then becomes; will it be with the Raiders? If we don't find out by the March 5th franchise tag deadline, we will certainly get a good idea about a week later on March 13th when free agency begins.