The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially severed ties with cornerback Eric Wright Friday afternoon, trading him to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional draft choice in 2014.
Wright’s trade ended a disappointing tenure in Tampa that included two DUI arrests (although charges were dropped in the first one), a PED suspension, and ultimately failed expectations for a player who was supposed to help an ailing defense.
He struggled with some off-the-field issues and those issues affected his ability to practice and perform. At times he appeared unfocused and undisciplined, getting shown up in practice by younger, less-experienced players, according to sources within the Buccaneers organization.
Still, the team was hopeful that Wright had turned the corner and learned from his mistakes. He had recently become a father and seemed to be getting his life on track.
Unfortunately for him, an arrest on the suspicion of DUI July 12 ultimately sealed his fate.
The Bucs acquired Wright as a free agent in March of 2012, signing him to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million. It was part of an unprecedented free agent spending spree that included courtship on the Glazer family plane, and the signings of superstar wideout Vincent Jackson and All-Pro guard Carl Nicks.
At the time, some felt the Bucs overpaid for Wright, who had four picks and 74 combined tackles the previous season in Detroit but failed to produce any impact plays.
In July, four months after he joined the Buccaneers, Wright was arrested in downtown Los Angeles on suspicion of felony DUI after his Mercedes collided with a Chevy Silverado pickup, an accident that caused injury to the other driver.
He refused to submit to a breathalyzer test and a field sobriety test and was booked into the LAPD’s downtown Metropolitan Detention Center.
It wasn’t Wright’s first run-in with the law, or his first time escaping punishment.
In 2005, Wright left USC after he was arrested on suspicion of rape. According to police reports, 136 pills of Ecstasy were found in Wright’s college apartment. Prosecutors decided not to file charges, citing insufficient evidence. He transferred to UNLV.
The LA County District Attorney opted not to press charges in his 2012 DUI arrest and Wright joined his teammates for the start of training camp.
Eventually, things caught up to him.
In October of 2012 Wright was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. He tested positive for the stimulant, Adderall. He attempted to appeal the suspension, which bought him some time and allowed a sore Achilles to mend. His appeal was denied.
Prior to the suspension, the Bucs were sitting at 7-4 with a shot at making the playoffs. They would drop four straight in his absence. He was re-instated for the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons but did not play, a strategic move that kept the Bucs from owing him money.
Wright finished the season with 37 combined tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception returned for a touchdown in Week 2.
In March of 2013, Wright and his agent filed a grievance in an attempt to collect some of the guaranteed $7.75 million he was due in 2012. The league did not agree with Wright’s interpretation of his contract, however, and his grievance was denied.
In April of this year, the Bucs restructured him to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, with incentives that could bolster his pay to $3 million. Ironically, his incentive-laden contract looked very similar to the contract of Nnamdi Asomugha, now his teammate with the 49ers.
For Bucs general manger Mark Dominik, trading Wright was an opportunity to cut his losses on a player he originally overpaid for and after failing to meet expectations, was no longer in the team’s plans for the future.
Wright was on a one-year deal. Keeping him in 2013 and allowing him to enter free agency after the season would have resulted in…well, nothing.
With a compensatory pick, Dominik can use his way to negotiate trades during the draft.
Dominik did the same with Aqib Talib when Talib was traded to the Patriots in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
Parting ways with Wright shows the team has a lot of confidence in second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, who could realistically start opposite Darrelle Revis.
It also shows confidence in second-year former undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson, and possibly Michael Adams, who was a solid nickel performer for the Arizona Cardinals.
In San Francisco, Wright is expected to push Asomugha and cornerback Carlos Rogers. At minimum, he can be a solid sub-package player and defend opposing slot receivers.
He’s capable of starting, but his performance ultimately depends on his willingness to get his act together off-the-field.
If newfound-fatherhood hasn’t done that and neither has failing to take advantage of a second chance with the Buccaneers after his PED suspension, I’m not sure what will.