The countdown to the start of free agency is getting shorter (four days to be exact, but who's counting?) and the debate over what the Bengals should do about their running back situation is starting to heat up. Cedric Benson is all but out, so the question is what the Bengals do next? Will they use one of their first round picks to get a good running back prospect, use a later round pick and see if they can get a steal, pick up a free agent, or a combination of using both routes?
In the end, we have no idea what the Bengals are going to do because we are only fans, but one thing is certain: they will be signing a running back one way or another. One option that NFL.com writer Steve Wyche believes could be a good pick-up for the Bengals is free agent running back Michael Bush.
Now that the franchise tag is out of the way and certain high-profile players, such as Arian Foster, have new, long-term deals, the best available running back, according to Wyche, is the Oakland Raiders' Michael Bush. Not only does Wyche note that Bush is the top choice in free agency, but he explicitly mentions how Bush would be a good fit with the Bengals:
Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Bush coming to Cincinnati because of his play-making abilities, his aggressive style of play, and he is a hometown boy (Bush went to high school at Louisville Male and the University of Lousiville). Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden stated that the Bengals would be moving towards a committee running scheme recently and having a big back like Bush would be a must-have in the committee. Because of his youth, lack of wear as a result of splitting time with Darren McFadden, and his pass-catching abilities, Bush provides a potential significant upgrade over Benson. In 2011, Bush had 37 catches for 418 yards from the backfield, averaging over eleven yards per catch. To give a drastic comparison, last year Benson had 15 catches for 82 yards and averaged 5 yards per catch. These stats are the difference between a quality, well-rounded running back and an, at best, mediocre running back.
The only question mark that surrounds Bush is his durability throughout the season. The last six games of the season Bush was unable to eclipse the 100-yard mark for the Raiders and, actually, was unable to rush for more than 78 yards. Granted, the Raiders had just acquired Carson Palmer and were concentrating heavily on their passing game, three of those six games Bush had over 20 carries and was still unable to get over 78 yards rushing (24/69, 23/78, and 23/70). Who knows how Bush has approached his off-season workout regimen since becoming one of the top free agent running backs in the NFL and, likely, expected to be a leader on the offense. After a year where he only started six games and still managed to rush for 977 yards (1,396 all-purpose yards), a Michael Bush who is in better shape and ready for the wear-and-tear of a full NFL season could be dangerous on any team.
Wyche also has Benson on his list of top free agents in 2012 (directly behind Bush to be exact), but the eye-catching part of his inclusion in the list is what Wyche has to say about him:
In 2007, the Bengals let OG Eric Steinbach loose in free agency and he ended up being picked up by the Browns and being voted as an alternate in the 2008 Pro-Bowl. Those aren't superb credentials, but Steinbach was one of the best players at his position when he was a free agent and he was an anchor for the Bengals offensive line. The situation with Steinbach is nothing like this situation with Benson. Steinbach was in the prime of his career and was a significant player in the 2005 playoff run for the Bengals with his protection of Carson Palmer. Benson is in the twilight of his career and would be a no. 2 back behind Peyton Hillis, if they re-sign him, and could even find himself behind Chris Ogbannaya on the Browns depth chart if signed.
That being said, Benson going to Cleveland could have several positive ramifications for Bengals fans: first, the Bengals defensive front would know many of his tendencies from practicing against him everyday and would have the upper hand against the Browns offense and secondly, it might alleviate the Browns need for a running back and allow for Trent Richardson to move past one more team on his way to the Bengals at no. 17.