METAIRIE - In addition to re-signing some of their own free agents when a new collective bargaining agreement was approved Monday afternoon, one of the many things the New Orleans Saints had to do was deal with the contract of Reggie Bush.
Because Bush was scheduled to earn $11.8 million in base pay this season and count $16 million against the $120.4 million salary cap, it was widely understood - particularly by Bush - that his contract would need to be restructured for him to remain with the Saints.
Early Thursday, Bush was traded to the Miami Dolphins after he approved a two-year contract worth $10 million that his agent, Joel Segal, worked out with the Dolphins after the Saints gave him their blessing.
In exchange for Bush, the second pick of the 2006 draft, the Saints received an undisclosed 2012 draft choice and safety Jonathon Amaya, a second-year pro who was one of the Dolphins’ top special teams players last season.
The Saints had little chance of getting more for Bush because it was known they would probably release him if they couldn’t agree with him on a greatly reduced contract.
Saints coach Sean Payton said during a late afternoon news conference that Bush’s salary and inflated cap number was the main reason for the trade and that they had several conversations the last couple of weeks.
“That was the obvious challenge,” Payton said, noting the next step was finding out if they could bring him back. “He and I talked probably three different times, and I think there was a point at which we felt, (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and I, that the likelihood of that possibly happening was slim.”
At that point Wednesday afternoon, the Saints began talking to the Dolphins and started putting together a plan to move things forward.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the trade wasn’t a big surprise.
“Obviously, this is something we all knew was coming, or there was a possibility of it coming,” Brees said. “He’s on his way elsewhere and we wish him the best, but it doesn’t change our relationship at all.
“We had five great years here with Reggie and I think in the end, obviously, Reggie felt the opportunity for him was elsewhere.”
The trade came hours before the Saints began reporting for training camp Thursday. Players checked in and took physicals, had conditioning tests and attended meetings in advance of their first practice at 8:50 a.m. Friday.
After Bush told reporters in January that he was willing to take a pay cut to remain in New Orleans, a 4-1/2-month lockout of players by owners while a new CBA was hammered out put everything on hold.
Bush obviously thought his days with the Saints were numbered when he tweeted, “It’s been fun New Orleans,” just minutes after the team swung a trade to get an extra first-round pick in the draft in April.
With that second first-round pick, the Saints chose Alabama running back Mark Ingram - the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.
Despite his initial disappointment that team officials added Ingram to a crowded backfield that included himself, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Lynell Hamilton, Bush backtracked and said he still wanted to play for the Saints and welcomed Ingram to the club.
When asked if Bush would have been released if the trade hadn’t gone down, Payton said, “I think the fair question would have been if he wasn’t traded and did not want to renegotiate his contract, it would have been hard for us to keep him at that (cap) number.”
The Dolphins are trying to upgrade a backfield that includes second-round draft pick Daniel Thomas and oft-injured veterans Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams - another former Heisman winner traded by the Saints to the Dolphins in 2002. Both Brown and Williams are free agents.
“I don’t want to speak for Reggie, but I think this was a decision that was not as much about money as it was about an opportunity for more involvement,” Payton said.
“I’m sure he felt that, ?Hey, there are a lot of players at that position here (in New Orleans),’” he said. “I think it was about getting more touches per game, and I can understand that and respect that completely.”
Bush was dogged by a series of knee and leg injuries during his five seasons with the Saints and his considerable time on the sideline and in the training room clearly frustrated him during his stay with the team.
After playing in all 16 regular-season games and two playoff games as a rookie, he missed 20 games in the past four seasons - including eight last fall after he fractured his left tibia returning a punt in a Week 2 game at San Francisco.
Bush played in just 60 of a possible 80 regular-season games and never lived up to the high expectations many had for him coming out of college. While he proved to be an electrifying runner in the open field when healthy, Bush rushed for just 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns in five seasons.
He was a valuable asset to Brees as another receiving threat coming out of the backfield, catching 294 passes for 2,142 yards and 12 scores. Bush also had four TDs on punt returns and scored five touchdowns in the postseason.
Bush’s best seasons were his first two in New Orleans.
In 2006, when he formed a solid 1-2 punch with 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister, Bush ran for 565 yards and caught 88 passes for 742 yards with eight total touchdowns.
A year later, when McAllister was lost early in the season with a knee injury, Bush rushed for a career-high 581 yards and had 73 receptions for 417 yards and seven total TDs. But he missed the final four games after suffering a knee injury against the Tampa Bay Bucs.
In addition to injury problems, Bush had to deal with off-field distractions that included a lengthy NCAA investigation of improper benefits his family received while he was in college at the University of Southern California.
USC eventually lost its 2004 BCS national championship and was put on probation and Bush was no longer recognized as a Heisman winner by the Heisman Trust.
Bush is the second high-profile player to leave the Saints since last season ended. In February, the team released veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey, who signed with the Carolina Panthers before the lockout began.