When Greg Schiano was hired as head coach, his number one objective was to change culture. Not only to change the “players’ coach” vibe from the Raheem Morris era, but to change the losing culture that set in quickly and led to a ten game losing streak that ended Morris’ stint with the Buccaneers. Schiano believes in a structured environment with rules and regulations, but is also big on being a family and being accountable to teammates and coaches. That’s why he and the front office made the right move in letting go of Eric Wright.
On the Pewter Plank Podcast this week, my co-host Ken speculated that the Buccaneers were focusing too much on building up a roster of character guys who fit the “Buccaneer man” mold, rather than focusing on winning. He said he would rather have Wright around to provide depth, and that since his contract was only for one year, the Bucs could just “put up” with him and let him go after the season.
But the bigger picture is that the Buccaneers can’t make exceptions to their philosophy, because the change in culture has been positive in the win column, and not just in the locker room. A player who has constantly been on the edge of trouble and apparently acted foolishly despite being given the most obvious “short leash” in recent sports history, Wight ran out of chances. Aqib Talib should have served as a warning for Wright, as his checkered past meant the team had no patience for his suspension in 2012. Wright got another opportunity, and decided to put himself into a compromising situation once again, and proved he wasn’t truly grateful for the opportunity the Bucs have him this summer.
So why keep him around? Is the marginally above average talent he might have provided the Buccaneers worth the poor example for younger players, and ambiguous approach to handling player discipline? Locker rooms are a band of brothers, and having Wright around after multiple missteps would only serve to breed a culture of acceptance. Not acceptance of drinking and driving, or of PED usage, but of talent trumping accountability. Da’Quan Bowers and Cody Grimm haven’t been let go, because they made a single mistake this summer, and are “on notice”. But Eric Wright and Aqib Talib had been trouble from the start, and while they both possess plenty of talent and potential, they acted against the culture that brought the Buccaneers out of the “Youngry” mentality.
There are far too many mature, talented football players to rely upon players with questionable off-the-field decision making that dates all the way back to college. At least, that’s how the Buccaneers see it, and they have been fairly consistent since the arrival of Greg Schiano that they will adhere to that philosophy.
The interesting part of this scenario will be when the Buccaneers are faced with a more prominent player who acts out against the teams’ ideals. What if a star player was arrested for a fairly serious crime? What if another starter is suspended by the NFL? The Denver Broncos are reportedly on the verge of a similar situation, as Von Miller may be facing a four game suspension for violating the leagues’ substance abuse policies.
The Buccaneers were forced to make a big decision at an important time when it came to trading, and eventually being forced to release Eric Wright. They’ll need to remain consistent with this approach, but all signs point to a team that stands behind its morals and philosophies. The thought that the team will struggle in the future to build a winning roster with “restrictive” limitations on player behavior is ridiculous, as being a talented athlete and failing to respect authority and positively represent your employer do not go hand in hand.
There is no “Tampa Witch Hunt” to weed out bad apples from the bunch. The players who have left town have been habitual offenders, or have been otherwise surplus to requirements. The front office and coach are welcome to install a culture however they would like, and will do so until they’re fired, or they move on to another position. But I see nothing unfair about letting go of a cornerback who has had multiple arrests or “arrests on suspicion of” during his career, combined with violating league rules.
So what do you think of the Buccaneers’ philosophy? Are they too focused on building a positive culture?