The most obvious free-agent connection in recent memory -- the Detroit Lions and running back Reggie Bush -- came together as quickly as expected Wednesday. Bush was on a flight to Detroit shortly after the market opened Tuesday, visited the team's facility Wednesday morning and agreed to terms shortly after noon ET.
The pending deal has enthused Lions fans and fantasy owners alike, all of whom envision the impact of a speedy tailback in an offense built around receiver Calvin Johnson and anchored by quarterback Matthew Stafford. All you have to do is go back to the 2011 season to see the opportunity the Lions and Bush offer each other.
That season, Lions tailback Jahvid Best was on pace for about 1,800 all-purpose yards -- including a 1,000-yard rushing season and more than 70 receptions -- when he was sidelined in the sixth game by a concussion that seems to have ended his career. Bush is the first suitable replacement the Lions have employed since Best's concussion.
Bush broke into the NFL as a quasi-receiver, hauling in 213 passes in his first three seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Then he transitioned into a more traditional role over the past two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, rushing for 2,072 yards in 31 games over that span.
I would imagine the Lions will give Bush an ample opportunity to do both, as they did with Best before his final concussion. And as we discussed last month, Bush will either capitalize dramatically on Johnson's presence or force fundamental changes by defenses.
With plodding tailback Mikel Leshoure as the Lions' lead runner in 2012, the team ranked last in the NFL with four runs of at least 20 yards. (Bush had six himself for the Dolphins.) Johnson's presence, along with a rushing attack that had no explosiveness, left the Lions to run more plays (855 of a possible 1,160) against defenses with six or fewer defenders in the box than any other NFL team. In addition, the Lions faced -- by far -- the fewest number of "stacked" boxes: eight or more defenders within 2 yards of the tackle and 5 yards deep. That happened on only 1.6 percent of their plays (19 of 1,160).
Finally, the Lions saw a "standard" look -- seven defenders in the box -- on 286 plays, the third-fewest in the league. (Those figures courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.)
In theory, six-man boxes offer a player with Bush's explosiveness a tremendous opportunity to get into space and make plays.
"It's a running back's dream," Bush said a few minutes ago during his introductory news conference. "The first thing we talked about, we're watching film, seeing those safeties deep ... it's a running back's dream. We have to be able to run the ball in that situation. That's part of the reason I wanted to come here and be part of a balanced attack and take the pressure off Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford."
With that said, I would still expect Leshoure to get a fair number of carries in the Lions' 2013 offense. Coach Jim Schwartz said last month that the team still has "high hopes for him, and we expect him to make a big jump." But Bush will get every opportunity to exploit the gaps that Leshoure could not last season.
There was a time when the Lions envisioned a "Reggie Bush role" for Jahvid Best. Now, they have the original under contract and in uniform. There is plenty of work left to do on the Lions' 2013 roster, especially on defense, but there is no doubt they got better today.