Can Bears maximize Michael Bush?

INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s hard to blame the Chicago Bears for signing veteran tailback Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract in 2012 that included $7 million in total guarantees.

With starting running back Matt Forte locked in a contract dispute with the club after receiving the franchise tag following the 2011 regular season, the Bears needed to protect themselves in case Forte and the team were unable to reach a long-term agreement. Forte had also missed the final four games that year with a knee injury.

In the end, Forte and the Bears reached an accord on a four-year deal and Bush spent the last two seasons as a part-time player in the Bears’ offense.

Last year, despite eating up $3.550 million worth of salary-cap space, Bush carried the ball a career-low 63 times for 197 yards (3.1 yards per rush) and caught the ball just four times for 48 yards.

Can the Bears get more bang for their buck out of Bush, who is scheduled to count $3.850 million against the cap in 2014?

“I think, No. 1, it was very difficult to take Matt off the field, and it was very impressive that he had the endurance to do what he did this year,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said at the NFL combine. “There were times that we just felt we had a plan to play Michael more, the defense may have been on the field, and Matt had a good enough rest so we kept Matt out there and didn’t get Michael on as much as we would’ve liked to. We had a plan but we didn’t execute it. A lot of that, going in, was Matt’s productivity.

I’ve experienced this in Oakland when we had Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner. There’s a place, certainly, for that type of back. If you have a system of football that’s flexible enough, you can seamlessly make that transition and still be just as effective.”

If the Bears decide to cut ties with Bush, the organization would still be on the hook for $2 million worth of dead salary cap space -- the remaining balance of Bush’s prorated $4 million signing bonus. But it’s unclear whether the Bears believe second-year running back Michael Ford is ready to assume the role as the team’s No. 2 tailback. The 5-foot-10 Ford played on special teams last year where he appeared in 12 games and returned five kickoffs for 37 yards and made five special-teams tackles. Ford’s 2014 salary cap number is projected to be $496,166.