The Tampa Bay Buccaneers parted ways with cornerback Eric Wright Friday, trading him to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a conditional draft choice in 2014. It was a classic Mark Dominik move, and one that provides clues as to how the Buccaneers front office operates.
Wright was on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. He had originally signed a massive five-year deal worth $37.5 million, but missed four games last season when he was popped for Adderall.
Wright had already been arrested on suspicion of DUI in July of 2012. The Bucs waited for the legal process to play out, and charges were dropped. Wright joined his teammates in training camp soon after.
Unfortunately for Wright, things caught up to him. He was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of DUI earlier this month. The Bucs had given him another chance after his PED suspension and he failed to take advantage of it.
The team was no longer obligated to keep him either due to the acquisition of Darrelle Revis in the offseason along with drafting second-round pick Johnthan Banks, and picking up an additional subpackage player in veteran cornerback Michael Adams.
Meanwhile, Wright had unsuccessfully filed a grievance with the league to earn some of the guaranteed $7.75 million in his contract.
The Bucs front office kept him somewhat in limbo not just during the initial wave of free agency, but after all top and middle-tier cornerbacks had been signed.
The team re-signed Wright to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, with incentives to boost it to $3 million. It was significantly less than his initial deal and the Bucs were off the hook for a player they spent far too much on initially (although the team needed to, given the off-field struggles of Aqib Talib and a contemplated position switch for veteran Ronde Barber).
Had the restructuring happened earlier, Wright and his agent could have had more leverage. But they didn’t.
The Bucs could have kept Wright on his one-year deal and let him become a free agent at the end of the season, which would have resulted in…well, nothing. But once a willing trade partner emerged, it was a no-brainer. The 49ers could take Wright’s contract, and Mark Dominik could gain something in return.
Not everyone sees the value in a conditional draft choice. But Dominik will use that choice and other accrued picks to pull the trigger on other trades, including during the draft, moving up several spots to acquire a player likely not on the board the next time around.
The LeGarrette Blount trade is an example. Blount was re-signed to a one-year deal with the club in May, just before he was set to become a restricted free agent. An 1,000-yard rusher, Blount was overtaken by rookie sensation Doug Martin in 2012 and relegated to backup duties.
The Bucs re-signed him to a one-year deal worth up to $1.75 million. A willing trade partner emerged in the New England Patriots, who also had a commodity in former Gators running back/kick returner Jeff Demps.
On day three of the draft, the Pats sent Demps and a seventh-round pick over to Tampa Bay in exchange for Blount.
Using the newly-acquired seventh-round pick, the Bucs traded up from 196th to 189th overall, snagging Mike James, a running back out of Miami, who the team hopes may have a better grasp on concepts such as pass protection, an area Blount struggled with.
Former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib is another example. Like Wright, Talib had some off-the-field issues. He was also busted last season for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
Once it became clear Talib had run out of second, or however many chances, with the organization, (players were supposedly given clean slates when Greg Schiano came in), Dominik found a trade partner in the New England Patriots.
Talib was sent to New England, along with a seventh-round pick in exchange for a fourth rounder in this year’s draft.
Talib’s contract would have been up at the end of the season. Might as well gain something in return for what turned out to be one giant headache, right?
We could talk about other moves — the acquisition of kicker Nate Kaeding, before he decided to retire.
Sure, it was done this offseason to keep Connor Barth’s leg fresh during camp (unfortunately Barth will be out this season recovering from a torn Achilles), but I also have to believe that it was done for the sake of acquiring a player that could be of use to another team at some point before the trade deadline.
There are plenty of kickers in the league and plenty who can’t drill a ball through the uprights when it matters most. You never know what a team is willing to give up for that type of ability.
You could say the same about Jeff Demps. He may never see the field if he gets buried on a depth chart while missing camp. Given the number of injuries at his position around the league, and his unique skills on special teams, another team could come calling. And Mark Dominik will listen.
That’s what he does — always thinking ahead, always eyeing the needs of other teams, always thinking of ways to gain something in return for players that either didn’t pan out or who could bring something in return for the future.