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Looming Bush contract talks a dilemma but also an opportunity

At some point within the next month the Dolphins and the agent representing Reggie Bush will discuss what precisely to do about the contract status of the team's most impressive player so far this season.

Bush, the NFL's second-leading rusher, is in the final year of his contract. And although neither side pushed the other to get an extension signed before the start of this season -- with both thinking they held a good hand and both comfortable of the future -- the questions now begin to resonate:

Can the Dolphins afford to keep their best player before he hits free agency?

Can the Dolphins afford to let their best player walk away in free agency?

A few weeks ago, before he exploded onto this 2012 season, Bush was seemingly being set up for replacement by the Dolphins. Not only had they not talked to super agent Joel Segal about a new deal but last year they drafted Daniel Thomas in the second round and this year added highly regarded Lamar Miller in the fourth round.

In the world of well-run NFL franchises, that's how it is done. You acquire a running back. Use him up. Then you let him go before having to spend big money on what is increasingly a diminishing asset in today's pass-happy NFL.

The Dolphins did that with Ronnie Brown. And that's what they seemed to be doing with Bush.

Fact is, that still may be the plan. If the Dolphins decide re-signing Bush to a contract extension is too expensive, they might simply move forward with their younger, albeit unproven replacements that are already on the team and were drafted to be the next and less expensive guys up.

But Bush has thrown a wrench into this possible course of action by simply being everything the Dolphins could have wanted from him and much, much, more.

He is a threat from anywhere on the field as his 65-yard run Sunday against Oakland proved.

He has been not only willing, but actually eager to be a workhorse. He led the team with 216 carries last season and is on pace for 320 carries this season -- although that probably won't be sustainable.

Bush is the team's hardest working player. I did not say he's one of Miami's the hardest working players. He is the hardest worker on the team. It is a rare day when practice ends and Bush isn't pushing a sled or running sprints afterward. 

Bush also has stayed relatively healthy, reporting for duty in 17 of a possible 18 games.

The guy has been a beast. Even offensive coordinator Mike Sherman marvels at his ability to run between the tackles and stay fresh.

"I remember Reg when he came out of college and they didn’t ask him a whole lot in that regard, and he was so much faster than everybody else that is was easier to run around them than through them," Sherman said. "But, when I study the tapes form last year, certainly he did that numerous times, and has done that for us too. The durability is what amazes me. He’s out there today like he didn’t even play a game yesterday running around and doing what he does. (He’s) a very impressive young man, no question about that.”

Bush's value around  the league has increased dramatically since he arrived in Miami. And his value in Miami has increased dramatically the past couple of games. So it stands to reason the longer the Dolphins wait to attend to a possible contract extension, the higher the price to re-sign Bush will get because somebody will surely be happy to sign a 27-year-old playmaker in his prime.

Now, I suppose the Dolphins can play hardball and say they'll think about Bush's status at the end of the season, gambling that he slows down and his value declines. That would be an ironic way to attend to this matter because if that's the approach the Dolphins would be banking on Bush not playing as well as he currently is while also hoping, for the team's sake, that he plays better than he is now.

Segal, meanwhile, can play hardball as well. He can simply set a price for Bush and say if the Dolphins don't meet it, he'll become a free agent and go to the highest bidder. And if Bush continues his current trajectory, he's going to be more expensive after the season than he is now. The Bush camp would be betting that Bush is hitting his stride and what you see the past two games is what you'll see the next 14 games.

What makes most sense? Everyone needs to be reasonable.

The Dolphins need to realize Bush is one of their few offensive weapons and they should be in the business of adding weapons for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, not subtracting them.

The Dolphins should realize that Thomas has proven nothing so far as a player. Banking on him to replace Bush is wishful thinking at this point. Yes, Miller was very, very promising in his first game on Sunday, gaining 65 yards as Bush's replacement.

But they should like the idea of having both Bush and Miller in what amounts to a stable of one home run hitter and a player who was a home run hitter in college.

Segal, meanwhile, needs to realize his client has it pretty good down here. He gets the carries he wants. He lives in a town he likes. The team is going to improve as Tannehill gets more experience. And because the Dolphins know Bush best and have milked him for his highest pro production, maybe it would serve him to stay here.

So what is Reggie Bush worth?

That's not my business to judge. It's up to Reggie Bush, his agent, and the Dolphins. But you can believe this is a topic that will soon be on the table for the team and the player. And it will be very interesting to see how it eventually plays out.

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