The huge payday Michael Bush anticipated twice within the past four-plus years never materialized. But finally it's coming, one way or the other.
How much Bush receives from the Raiders or another NFL team remains to be seen. Yet, everyone agrees that the amount is going up with each game, as Bush asserts himself as a legitimate starting running back.
"There's no question, when he's healthy he can be an every-down back," said Dave Razzano, an NFL scout for more than two decades. "If he ends on a real high note, there could be a pretty good market for him because most people had him rated pretty good coming out (of college)."
Bush is slated to start Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in place of injured regular Darren McFadden for the third straight game.
Bush was projected as a top-10 pick entering his senior season at Louisville. He suffered a broken right leg in the season opener, an injury that necessitated two surgeries and a titanium rod inserted into his leg.
Naturally, that scared off teams from using a high pick on him in the 2007 draft. The Raiders selected Bush with the first pick of the fourth round, resulting in their paying Bush a fraction of what he would have received as a first-rounder.
Bush, 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, spent his rookie season rehabilitating from the leg injury, and he didn't play in any games.
As a result, his rookie year didn't count as an accrued season. That delayed his eligibility as an unrestricted free agent by one season. He signed a one-year tender for $2.6 million in August.
A sprained right foot suffered by McFadden on Oct. 23 thrust Bush into a starring role three games ago. Bush amassed 352 yards rushing and 130 yards receiving in those games. Overall, he has 490 yards rushing this season, only 124 fewer than McFadden.
"Everybody can't be a starter in this league, but, in Michael Bush's case, he can be," Raiders veteran running back Rock Cartwright said. "He's an every-down back. He can run for you, he can block and he can catch, as he showed (Nov. 10)."
Bush totaled 242 yards rushing and receiving in a 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
"I have been in this situation for four years now," Bush said. "It's all the same. I just know when it's my turn to play, I need to take care of my opportunities."
Cartwright says there isn't a drop in production when Bush, who has 12 career starts, plays for McFadden, who has started 32 games. He adds that every team needs two front-line backs.
Therein lies the conundrum for Bush and the Raiders.
The Raiders can place the franchise tag on Bush to the tune of $7.7 million or so and keep him around for another season, attempt to sign him to a long-term extension or simply let him walk.
If Bush isn't franchise-tagged, he would be forced to choose between negotiating a new contract with the Raiders or seeking the riches of free agency.
"It's going to be difficult for him but, at the same time, he wants that No. 1 job, and he might have to find somewhere else to go because, right now, D-Mac's the guy," Cartwright said. "We hope he's back here next season."
Bush said he won't discuss his situation until the season ends. For now, his focus is upon helping the Raiders chase their first playoff berth since 2002.
It's no secret that Bush enjoys playing for the Raiders, and the Raiders value his all-around skills.
"Michael Bush is one really fine football player in this league, also," coach Hue Jackson said. "There's a lot of teams that would love to have him, but he's ours. He plays for the Raiders, and he's done a fantastic job."
In the end, Bush might be forced to weigh his comfort with the Raiders vs. an opportunity to showcase his talents as a starter for another team.
LaMont Jordan did just that when he bolted a backup gig with the New York Jets for a starting job with the Raiders in 2005. Michael Turner did likewise in 2008, when he left the shadows of LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego for a starring role with the Atlanta Falcons.
Razzano said the Raiders and Bush are the best fit, even if the Raiders pay starter's money to a career backup.
"They need him," Razzano said. "If he's healthy, he's a vital cog. To keep winning, you need two good backs, and he's the second one."