The New Orleans Saints Super Bowl parade might have been the last time celebrithete running back Reggie Bush donned a Saints jersey in the Crescent City.
Due a staggering $8,000,000 next season under the terms of Bush’s contract, the Saints front office has two choices: pay the cameo superstar or cut him. Trade is not likely an option not because Bush is unwanted by other teams, since his talents are certainly coveted in addition to the marketing bonanza that follows the 4th year player that has yet to make a Pro Bowl but because nobody else would want to assume the running back’s contract.
A renegotiation/restructuring of Bush’s contract is improbable; not because of his stats but because of his stature. Stars like Bush, due to pride and/or perception, don’t take pay cuts. And if they have to settle for one, it’ll be with another team.
One source I won’t identify who is very familiar with the Saints organization mentioned to me just before the playoffs that Bush’s departure as a virtual certainty because the running back wants to return to the west coast, the location of his roots, his interests and his girlfriend.
Bush played high school football in San Diego and moved up the Pacific Coast for college at USC. And though Bush has played professionally in New Orleans, it’s apparent that he has immersed himself in the Crescent City like other Saints players have. Bush isn’t the adopted local icon quarterback Drew Brees is and never will be.
Number nine has supplanted all of the professional sports legends before him owns this town, just like George Brett owns Kansas City and John Elway owns Denver; Reggie Bush just works here.
That said, I don’t mean to discount his charitable work in New Orleans, which has not been inconsiderable, as Bush was donating money to entities struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina before he had inked his deal with the Saints.
But New Orleans just isn’t his city; and it’s not Kim’s either.
Saints fans shouldn’t take it personally. Nola just isn’t home.
Bush has no shortage of options beyond the Saints. Even with limited play in 2009, Bush was a major contributor to the Saints offense as a running back (averaging a career high 5.6 yards per carry), receiver (7.1 yards per reception) and as a distraction (see the high level of productivity by the other receivers). Bush also scored a combined 8 touchdowns rushing and receiving, including the spectacular “fleur-de-leap” against the Miami Dolphins that made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The one area where Bush was largely a bust this season was as a punt returner. Bush averaged a meager 4.8 yards per return with two fumbles and no touchdowns. The 2008 season was Bush’s best as a punt returning with a 13.5 yard return average and having taken 3 back for touchdowns.
The divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals was unquestionably his finest in the 2009 post-season; Bush's play in the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings and against the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl were let downs by comparison.
While Bush isn’t a durable player, he is capable of making exciting plays on a limited basis, selling jerseys and attracting klieg lights.
The most natural fit for Bush would be his hometown of San Diego, which is close to LA, USC and KK. Conveniently enough, the Chargers are shorthanded at running back with the release of LaDainian Tomlinson, one cannot help think in part anticipating the arrival of Bush as a free agent.
The second most logical option is a reunion with his former college coach Pete Carroll, who made a hasty departure up the coastline to Seattle.
While Bush will be dearly missed in the Big Easy, the Saints will have an opportunity in the draft to pick up a player that could partially (key word) supplement the dynamo gap left by Reggie’s departure.
The Saints may already have one part in place with the probable return of wide receiver Rod Harper, who impressed the Saints front office and fans with two punts returned for touchdowns in the 2009 preseason but spent all of the regular season either inactive or on injured reserve.
Talk of Tomlinson’s possible singing by the Saints, publicly encouraged by his old Chargers team mate and good friend Brees, wouldn’t replace what Bush takes with him. If anything, Tomlinson’s addition would more probably be an indication that running back Mike Bell’s days with the Saints organization are numbered as the two share a similar running style.
Bush has been a valuable player for the Saints and his contributions to the team on the field, off the field and from a marketing perspective cannot be denied nor discounted.
But Reggie isn’t worth 8 mill. And Reggie isn’t taken a nickel less from the Saints.
Leaving general manager Mickey Loomis with no other choice than, for the second off-season in a row, to cut a popular running back from the roster.
The only question is when.
And so the ReggieWatch begins.