As the regular season winds down, talk about which of the Miami Dolphins' 24 impending free agents will return in 2013 is heating up.
I love Miami. I love the city. I love the football team. I really enjoying playing here in this city, and I really enjoy building something special. I want to bring a Super Bowl to Miami and kind of restore some of that greatness about the Miami Dolphins. So I look forward to it.
Bush has experienced a career renaissance since joining the Dolphins prior to the 2011 season. He has rushed for 1,748 yards in 26 games with the 'Phins, which nearly matches his entire output from five seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
On top of solid production, Bush has also emerged as a veteran leader on the NFL's 12th youngest team. He served on the Dolphins "Leadership Council" (a group including him, Jake Long and Karlos Dansby that was featured on Hard Knocks) and has garnered a reputation as a team role model.
Despite all of the pros that Bush brings to the table, there's a very good chance the Dolphins will not re-sign him after this season—in fact, the odds are stacking up against that happening.
Firstly, Bush turns 28 in March, which means he's on a collision course with the proverbial "wall" that running backs hit when entering their late 20s and early 30s. Last summer, Pro Football Focus' Austin Lee wrote an extensive breakdown on the correlation between a running back's age and his decline. Although his article took a fantasy football angle, the measurements used—rushing yards, touchdowns—are the same metrics we generally use to judge running backs, anyway.
Take a look at the drastic decline running backs experience as they approach their 30s:
Of course, there are exceptions to this trend. Lee notes that Willis McGahee, Fred Jackson and Michael Turner all maintained high-end production after the age of 28. However, he also notes: "Many people attribute this success to the fact that they have all served in a multi-year backup role at some point in their careers, sparing their body the punishment of extra carries."
One thing working in Bush's favor is that he too has served in a multi-year backup role. In fact, he recorded only 524 carries during his five-year stint in New Orleans. Bush only led the team in carries once (2007) and spent his remaining years rotating with Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas.
While this certainly helps Bush's cause, there's one problem: he has been very mediocre this season. It's not as if he's tearing it up and age is the only reason to hesitate handing him a new contract. The Dolphins just might be better off moving forward with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, and perhaps another young back or free-agent acquisition.
Although Bush has dazzled at times this season—Weeks 1-3 and 12—he has been underwhelming the rest of the time:
Another threat to Bush's return is the presence of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller.
After a slow, concussion-riddled start to the season, Thomas is finally showing signs of life. In the last four weeks, he has rushed for 151 yards on 32 carries and tacked on eight receptions for 71 yards. It remains to be seen if Thomas can actually become a viable and reliable option, but if he finishes the season strongly, then he definitely deserves an expanded role in 2013.
And then, there's Lamar Miller.
The explosive fourth-round pick flashed his potential in Weeks 2 and 3 when he rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries. However, he hasn't factored in Miami's offensive plans since. Miller has played only 28 snaps since Week 3 and wasn't even active for four games. This isn't necessarily a testament to Miller's talent, but rather a byproduct of him being the odd man out in a crowded backfield.
Regardless, the Dolphins have to decide if these two—and potentially another draft pick, free-agent signee or incumbent player (Jonas Gray, Marcus Thigpen)—can ably fill the void left by Bush if he was not brought back.
There's no doubt entering next season with two mostly unproven backs would be a gamble.
This is tricky predicament further complicated by Bush's presence in the locker room and the offense's general lack of weapons. His offensive line hasn't done him any favors, and he can still put the burners on and fly by defenders. But, don't be mistaken: loyalty won't factor into the team's ultimate decision. Bush was brought in under Tony Sparano's watch—not Joe Philbin's—so there's no longstanding relationship or loyalty involved here.
The absence of playmakers on Miami's offense does boost his odds of returning, but Jeff Ireland should make adding weapons his foremost priority in free agency and the draft.
On paper, the cons outweigh the pros.
Bush is crossing an age plateau that suggests he'll soon decline, and he isn't producing at a particularly high level right now, anyway. However, his leadership qualities and marketability will factor in somewhere—it's just tough to gauge how much stock the Dolphins will put into these variables.
The wisest move Miami can make here is to offer Bush a short-term contract—ideally two years—for a very modest sum.
But, all things considered, there's no guarantee the 'Phins will even make an effort to bring Reggie back.
(For a similar breakdown of whether or not the Dolphins should re-sign Jake Long, click here.)