It Appears Raiders Will Let Michael Bush Run Free

By putting franchise tag on Branch, team signals that running back will be allowed to enter the free-agent pool

There’s no doubt that Darren McFadden is one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL.

But there’s also no doubt McFadden has been injury prone in his four NFL seasons since being taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Arkansas.

When McFadden has been sidelined, as he was for the final nine games of last season, the Raiders have had the luxury of having Michael Bush on the roster. Bush, a rugged 6-foot-1, 245-pounder who also just completed his fourth NFL season, has paired with McFadden to give the Raiders one of the best 1-2 running back combinations in the league. Last season Bush rushed for a career-high 977 yards and seven TDs and had four games of more than 95 yards on the ground.

But with the Raiders announcing Thursday that they intend to put their franchise tag on strong safety Tyvon Branch, indications are that Oakland is prepared to let Bush test the market in free agency.

Which means that safety net behind McFadden next season won’t be quite as strong.

Jon Becker of the Bay Area News Group reports that Branch will receive a contract for 2012 worth approximately $6.2 million, while putting the tag on Bush would have given him a deal worth about $7.7 million, nearly $2 million more than McFadden will earn next season.

Branch certainly deserves to stay in Oakland’s defense, as one of the few bright spots on a unit that consistently underperformed in yet another season in which Oakland failed to make the postseason.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Branch, who will be entering his fifth NFL season, had 109 tackles in 2011 with one interception, one fumble recovery and a sack. He’s started 48 consecutive games.

But by keeping Branch and potentially letting Bush walk, the Raiders offense could be significantly weakened should McFadden suffer yet another injury in 2012. As of now, the No. 2 back would be speedy Taiwan Jones, a rookie in 2011 who also had injury problems.

Several teams around the NFL reportedly would be interested in signing Bush and making him their featured back, something Bush has wanted to be.

Bush has had some big games, but has played second fiddle to McFadden. When he’s gotten the chance to play, he’s played well.

Last season, after gaining 242 yards from scrimmage in a victory over the Chargers, he said he relishes the work.

“Like I keep telling coach, ‘Just feed the stud,’ and everything is going to work out just fine,” Bush told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vittorio Tafur.

Bush’s teammates have seen what he can do and believe in him.

“Bush pounds defenders,” Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain told Tafur. “He’s a tough guy. If we want to bully around here, we have to run the ball. With that guy running the ball that’s the bully mind-set.”

Of course, that “bully” mentality was the one preached by head coach Hue Jackson, who’s now gone.

It appears Michael Bush may soon be gone, too.

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