Reggie Bush wants to be back. The Dolphins want him back.
But nervous Dolphins fans should prepare themselves for this reality: Bush probably won’t be back before seeing if a better deal is out there.
After signing a two-year, $9.75 million contract in 2011, Bush had his two most productive seasons as a pro. So in his mind, the last deal represents the floor for his next. Why would Bush willingly take a pay cut when he has exceeded expectations?
But basic economics are working against him. Bush’s $4.5 million base salary last year was eighth-most among running backs, but he finished 17th in the league in rushing (986 yards). Why would the Dolphins rush to pay him more than they believe he’s worth?
“I think Reggie may be a victim of a low market,” said Charley Casserly, a longtime NFL executive who is now an analyst for NFL Network. “He’s certainly played well the last two years, but with not a lot of teams looking for backs, there are not a lot of teams looking to put money in backs.
“I would say he would be fortunate to get [a deal as good as his last contract] again,” Casserly added.
It has been two weeks since the end of the season, and it appears Bush is no closer to re-signing with the team now than he was then. And because of the push and pull explained above, don’t expect much progress between the two sides for some time.
By all indications, Bush and most of the Dolphins’ other 11 unrestricted free agents are likely to reach the open market without a new deal, meaning that as many as seven starters from last year’s team could sign elsewhere come March 12.
Brian Hartline, the team’s leading receiver, wants to stay in Miami, but has seen little progress on an extension.
Matt Moore, arguably the league’s best backup quarterback, fully expects to reach free agency to learn his true value. Corner Sean Smith, who has started 56 games in the past four years, hasn’t gotten many calls lately from the people in Davie.
And few anticipate any of that to change over the next month. The feeling among industry insiders is that the Dolphins will wait until late February’s Scouting Combine before seriously engaging with their own.
Around that same time, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland must decide if any of the team’s free agents deserves the franchise tag. Based on the onerous salary-cap numbers that come with the tag, don’t be surprised if the Dolphins decide against it.
Under the franchise tag, tackle Jake Long would be owed $15 million, Smith and Hartline around $10 million and Bush roughly $8 million.
By way of comparison, Adrian Peterson — who just had the second-most prolific rushing season in NFL history — earned $8 million last year.
Huge cap space
The Dolphins have a staggering $47 million in cap space heading into 2013 — the third-most in the league — and Steve Ross recently pledged to open the wallet. But the team’s recent history has been to save, not spend.
In 2012, the team doled out roughly $82 million on the 24 players considered starters — the fifth-lowest amount in the NFL. Granted, that’s skewed by the fact that quarterback is usually the highest-paid player on the team, and Ryan Tannehill is on his rookie contract.
Still, only one skill-position player currently under contract will make more than $1 million in base salary next year: Davone Bess.
The case for adding
Considering the team scored just 18 points per game last year, many question the logic of letting their own established playmakers go when the team should be adding, not subtracting.
Which, intuitively, brings us back to Bush, who has repeatedly said that he wants to return to Miami.
“I would keep him,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former league scout who’s now with NFL Network.
Jeremiah believes Bush deserves a new contract again paying him in the neighborhood of $5 million per season.
“I think he’s a valuable guy,” he added. “You can do so many things with him. When he gets into the open field, he’s explosive, electric.”