Is Reggie Bush Being Phased Out of the Saints Offense Due to Money?

O. JohnsonContributor INovember 17, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 21:  Running back Reggie Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints receives a screen pass from quarterback Drew Brees against the Denver Broncos during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 21, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Saints 34-32.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Drew Brees has one of the leagues most dangerous players to check the ball down to when he gets in trouble in the pocket;Reggie Bush.

But if you’ve noticed, as of late, Bush is only on the field in spurts these days. His carries are few and far between. Is something wrong? Why isn't he getting the check-down as often as he use to?

It’s one of the biggest debates of the last four years. Every since the 2006 draft, people have been questioning the play and skills of Bush. You have people who buy into the perception that he can’t do this or can’t do that and refuse to see him as a victim of circumstance a la a mediocre run-blocking offensive line (at one time) and a pass-happy coach giving him an average of 10 carries a game.

Not to mention injuries or people who no matter what he does just don’t like him based on his contract, his lifestyle and/or where he played in college; that’s fine. Sports are like politics; people carry all kinds of biases and passion can and often time does supersede reasoning.

Is it not a big deal and Payton is not intentionally doing this; possibly.

However, looking at Payton’s record and coaching style, there is little chance that with a talented guy like Reggie that Payton uses the guy only sporadically now unintentionally. Bush has too much explosiveness for Payton's style to be ignored just to be ignored.

Look at what Payton told the media about Robert Meachem at the most recent Saints Press conference, "You're seeing Robert Meachem, who is each week getting better and better and I have to look to continue to get him more touches.”

But Reggie Bush, his first-round draft pick, the golden boy with the fast feet who scored two touchdowns and contributed to the win, isn’t even really discussed? What about his touches?

Or what about a recent October 30th press conference when a reporter asked what determines which running back gets the touches in a game and his response was:

"Depending on how you’re going with your plan, we try to do a number of things on the call sheet that feature certain backs. There’s also a part where you just watch the game. As Mike (Bell) started playing well in the third quarter, we continued to give him his touches, much like we did Pierre (Thomas) in Buffalo. I think it’s two-fold, it’s the plan going in and then it’s your ability to watch during the game."

No mention of Bush at all. Also, he didn't actually live up to this statement seeing that Bush had the hot hand in Buffalo, but stopped getting the ball.

It could be labeled far-reaching and paranoia, but it is possible that Bush is purposely being limited because of the incentives in his contract?

Let’s not get carried away just yet. One must consider the possible reasons Payton has kept Bush’s carries to an average of 6.1 carries a game this 2009 season. Bush has fumbled 16 times since he’s entered the league. Thus far that’s an average of four fumbles a year. So, maybe after the three fumbles he’s had thus far, Payton has decided to discipline him—just maybe.

That’s possible and definitely plausible, but since his last fumble, in game four vs. the New York Jets, he’s scored five touchdowns. That’s a score a game from him so that reasoning can’t be bought right now. He’s earned some more carries coach! It's coaching 101: a player gets hot, ride him!

What about the fact that Payton has two other running backs that not only are bigger than Bush, but run more north and south? It’s a running back by committee is it not? So someone has to take the hits in the carries department and it just so happens to be Bush.

Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell have both had 100-yard games this season already and Bush hasn’t had one since his rookie season. Both running backs are averaging higher career yards-per-carry per game too. It’s only logical that Payton would stick with these two backs isn’t it?

This is a good point and probably one of the best and hardest to disagree with except for the fact that Payton has used Bush sporadically over the years in the running department. Thomas and Bell have been given the ball for a whole series throughout the game several times this year. Thomas is currently averaging 13.4 carries a game in the games he’s played. Bell in the first five games he played in this season, has averaged 17.8 carries.

The most carries Bush has seen this season was 13 vs. the Buffalo Bills and he had 64 yards for nearly five yards per carry and yet was basically benched the second half. Since that game, when was the last time Bush was given the ball for more than 10 carries? We’ve seen games where both Thomas and Bell are given the ball and were able to develop a rhythm.

Running backs need rhythm to be consistent and although Bush has had games where he’s gotten a lot of “touches,” he’s pretty much always been given the ball sporadically when it comes to actual rushing touches. He will continue to have sub par games in that department if he’s not given the ball enough. Bush bashers everywhere will continue to believe the numbers support their bashing. Numbers aren’t always the whole story.

Sure, the NFL is a game of numbers we all know.

Touchdowns equal six points, field goals three points and the team with the most points wins, but the most important numbers are the numbers on the paycheck. Whether people want to believe it or not, money rules the NFL.

But it’s not the NBA. Contracts get nullified in the NFL all the time, there are no guarantees so to speak. Bush restructured his contract with the Saints last year just before the season and anyone with some sense, has to figure the numbers following that dollar sign has a lot to do with what’s going on right now.

Let’s look at the contract details of Bush’s renegotiated contract signing in June of 2008. According to a report from Ed Thompson, Senior NFL Analyst with (see details of Thompson’s finding here), the Saints gave themselves a backdoor in case Bush doesn’t earn the incentives. Sure there’s some guaranteed money, but most of the money isn’t guaranteed. After this 2009 season, according to the report, Bush stands to make more than twice the money in salary he made this season.

This year he’s being paid $2.6 million, but next year that’s supposed to shoot up to $8 million. There are incentives that he has to earn, but with injuries from last year and limited carries this year,he’s probably not going to get them.

We don’t know the specifics of the incentive clauses, but we can assume that 6.2 carries a game is not going to help him earn that money. How many role players get paid $8 million dollars a year? The Saints know they’ll have to up some player's salaries next year and Bush’s salary is very hefty considering the production he's had.

The check has to come down, plain and simple.

Bush has to either renegotiate or leave. Payton is not the owner or manager, so he's not calling the shots as far as monetary measures go. And with two capable and (right now) cheap running backs doing the job, why waste money?

The only other explanation Payton has for limiting Bush’s touches, is because he’s saving him for the big games coming up and the playoffs. Is this how he wants to use Bush every year? Maybe, but for a cheaper price.

At this rate Bush isn’t going to earn those incentives so this is leverage to renegotiate. So, remember that next time you see Reggie Bush do something amazing, but then not see the ball again,the check has to come down, but don't be surprised if the check-down heads out.


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