When Eric Wright was suspended for violating the NFL’s banned substance policy, the repercussions were both positive and negative for Buccaneers’ fans and the front office. Losing Wright was a blow to the defensive backfield, having just invested a good portion of money in the former UNLV cornerback. Wright was one of the most experienced players at cornerback, and with the uncertainty surrounding Aqib Talib, Wright’s presence was needed to provide a veteran corner with starting NFL experience. The Buccaneers would be carved apart in the defensive backfield in 2012, an area of the team where performance declined from 2011 to 2012, and Eric Wright’s suspension and injuries were a reason for the decline.
But there were positives to be found in this frustrating situation. Buccaneers’ coaches and fans were able to get a good look at players like E.J Biggers, Leonard Johnson, and Danny Gorer, which would likely not have happened if Wright was able to play as often as his massive contract would suggest. And speaking of the contract, the Buccaneers were able to be freed of having to pay guaranteed salary to Eric Wright through the remainder of his deal as a result of the suspension. This allows the Buccaneers flexibility they would not have otherwise had, and would have ensured Wright would be with the team for at least one more year. So that begs the question…
Should the Buccaneers let go of Eric Wright?
Lots of internet chatter has taken place regarding the future of the former Browns and Lions corner, and there is no unanimous decision. Some fans and writers believe it is a foregone conclusion, Wright will be let go before his 2013 salary is paid out. Other fans believe the Buccaneers would be able to do no better than Wright, and believe he should stay until Tampa Bay is sure they have a better replacement. A third group of fans is somewhat in the middle, believing Wright should take a pay cut and remain with the team at a lower, more team-friendly price point that is more befitting of a player who is oft-injured and has baggage off the field.
I believe the Bucs plan is to let go of Wright, as there are plenty of options in the draft and free agency to bring in less expensive players at the cornerback position. Bengals’ cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was drafted in the middle of round 1 in 2012, and received a 4 year deal worth less than 9 million dollars. If the Buccaneers are able to snag one, or two, cornerbacks at this price, it would be useless to have Wright around, and could instead spend 5 million per year on a player like Greg Toler, and bring depth to the defensive backfield, rather than spending almost 8 million dollars on a player like Wright who has spent 6 games as a non-starter for one reason or another in 2 of the last 3 years.
Wright is not reliable enough to be counted on to make an 8 million dollar investment worth it, and he might not even be good enough of a corner anymore to make the deal lucrative for the Bucs. Wright logged only one pick in 2012, and it was on a play where he was blitzing rather than in coverage. So for the 10 games in which Wright played, he had 0 interceptions, and only 8 passes defended while in coverage. He also failed to force a fumble, something he had done in previous seasons. Wright’s worst performance of the season was in the week 7 loss to the Saints, when he would find himself frequently in open space, having allowed his man to run deep into safety help that either wasn’t there, or wasn’t in place yet as the play had not developed enough for rookie Mark Barron to know which area of the field he was meant to cover. Wright’s half-hearted attempt at a tackle on Joseph Morgan of the Saints on this play was a fitting highlight for a game where the Saints offense made him look poor all game long.
Wright will turn 28 over the summer, and with his injury history it would seem his best football may be behind him. According to Pro Football Focus, Wright graded out negatively in 2012, after being at least slightly positive his previous 3 seasons. Wright would only grade well against the Raiders and Chiefs, while receiving particularly poor marks against the Cowboys, Saints, and Panthers. In other words, when playing against a competent quarterback, Wright was at his worst. That’s not the sign of a franchise cornerback.
With a salary of nearly 8 million dollars, Wright must play like a franchise cornerback to be worthy of a roster spot. He showed no signs of being a franchise corner in 2012, and as he approaches 30 years old, the window is closing rapidly. E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson are both more promising for the future of the Buccaneers, and are more deserving of the money the team has to offer thanks to an excellent salary cap situation. Biggers is a free agent, and I would much rather see the Buccaneers lock him up long term than continue to pay Wright at a salary he will not be able to deliver value for.
Wright gave the Buccaneers a door to walk through when he voided the guaranteed money on his contract by testing positive for a banned substance. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but letting go of Wright is the best move for the Buccaneers at this point. Allow younger, more promising players to take the lead at cornerback, and watch as Mark Barron continues to grow and help his cornerbacks. The Buccaneers pass defense has nowhere to go but up, and moving on from Eric Wright is a step in the right direction.